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AP - Sports

It's not surprising Samuel Dalembert got off to a slow start considering he signed with the Houston Rockets a day before their opener.

Three weeks into the season he appears to have found his rhythm.

Dalembert looks to lead the Rockets to a fifth straight win Thursday night against the struggling New Orleans Hornets.

After opening with seven losses in 10 games, Houston (7-7) got back to .500 with Tuesday's 97-80 win over Detroit. Dalembert finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds while Luis Scola also scored 14 for the Rockets, who improved to 5-1 at home.

"We are back to .500, which is where we wanted to be after a bit of a slow start,'' Scola said. "I think the best thing is that we are playing better."

Dalembert has certainly shown some significant improvement.

Signed on Christmas, the 6-foot-11 center averaged 5.6 points and 5.9 boards in the Rockets' first 10 games. He has since emerged as a major force in the paint, averaging 15.3 points on 69.2 percent shooting and 11.8 rebounds during the four-game winning streak.

"He's just playing wonderful basketball for us right now," coach Kevin McHale said.

While McHale is thrilled with Dalembert's play, he's also happy to get reserve guard Courtney Lee back.

Lee returned Tuesday after missing eight straight games with a strained right calf, and is expected to help spell Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry. Martin, scoring a team-best 17.4 points per game, is averaging 40.7 minutes in six contests since Jan. 10, while Lowry, averaging 17.3 points, is playing 39.5 minutes a game.

Both of those workloads are among the top 10 in the league.

"Those guys have been playing a lot of heavy minutes this year," McHale said. "I know there's diminishing returns when you play that much - you just get too tired. So having Courtney back will help that."

A little break in the schedule should also help the Rockets. After wrapping up a stretch of eight games in 12 days Tuesday, Houston now plays four times over the next eight days with no back-to-backs.

The Rockets have lost six of the last seven meetings with the Hornets, but New Orleans is an entirely different team without Chris Paul and David West.

The Hornets (3-11) arrive in Houston after Wednesday's 93-87 loss to Memphis, their fifth straight defeat and 11th in 12 games.

Jarrett Jack matched a season high with 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting and Trevor Ariza had a season-best 18 points while making 7 of 13, but the rest of the team shot 38.1 percent (16 of 42).

For the most part, it was an encouraging outing for Ariza, who played 40 minutes and also had season highs of seven assists and four steals after sitting out the previous eight games with a pulled right groin. He did have five of New Orleans' 18 turnovers, however.

"We've just got to make better basketball plays,'' said Jack, who is averaging 23.7 points on 59.5 percent shooting in the last three games after averaging 10.5 points on 34.1 percent shooting in his previous four.

"It has nothing to do with the coaches, anybody else. It's these 15 guys in the locker room, it's on our shoulders to make it and get it better.''

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