The Miami Heat didn't have much trouble with James Harden in last season's NBA Finals.
This time, they should expect him to be much more involved in a different uniform.
Facing Harden for the first time since winning the NBA title, the Heat will try to minimize his impact again and make it six straight wins against the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
Miami (5-2) won its second championship by beating Oklahoma City in five games last summer, limiting Harden to 12.4 points per contest on 37.5 percent shooting in the series.
Harden is the NBA's reigning sixth man of the year, and was key to setting up the finals matchup by averaging 17.6 points over the first three rounds of the playoffs. He had a career-high 16.8 during the regular season.
Unable to sign him to a long-term contract, the Thunder dealt Harden to Houston (3-3) as part of a six-player trade last month and he's averaging a team-high 26.5 points per game in a starting role.
He didn't need to hit his average against winless Detroit on Saturday, leading the Rockets with 20 points in a 96-82 victory to end a three-game slide. It was the team's first game without coach Kevin McHale, who is on a leave of absence to deal with a family matter.
Despite the addition of Harden, Houston ranks near the bottom of the league in shooting percentage (40.6) and 3-point percentage (29.0). However, the Rockets have compensated for those shortcomings with strong defense over their last two games, limiting opponents to 38.5 percent from the field while forcing the Pistons into 18 turnovers.
"We're going to start putting things together," Harden said. "I think defensively, we're playing pretty well. Offensively, we just gotta get a feel for each other. Even the games we lost, we were in the games. A couple turnovers here and there just put us away. Hopefully, it comes together soon."
Recent history shows that's not likely to happen against the Heat.
Miami is averaging 112.2 points during a five-game winning streak against Houston, including a pair of road victories. However, the Heat have lost two of three on the road this season and shot a season-low 38.0 percent in Sunday's 104-86 defeat at Memphis.
They connected at a 51.9 percent clip while winning each of the previous four games.
Dwyane Wade, averaging 18.3 points, may be in for a bounce-back performance after missing 12 of 15 attempts to finish with a season-low eight points Sunday. A cold forced him to sit out Friday's 95-89 win at Atlanta, the opener of a six-game road trip.
The guard has averaged 29.3 points in eight games at Houston, scoring 45 on 17-of-24 shooting in a 125-119 win there on Dec. 29, 2010.
Wade missed the only matchup last season with a broken finger and Chris Bosh was out with a leg injury, forcing LeBron James to pick up the slack with 32 points and eight rebounds in a 97-88 home victory April 22.
Bosh has been effective in the first two games of this trip, following his 24-point performance Friday with 22 on Sunday.
He's averaging 26.0 points over his last four games against Houston.
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