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Magic-Rockets Preview

AP - Sports

While Dwight Howard grew unhappy in Orlando after eight seasons with the Magic, he's surely pleased with how things are working out in Houston.

The Rockets go for an eighth home win in nine games Sunday night when Howard faces his former team.

Houston, which signed Howard to a four-year deal worth roughly $88 million this summer, has opened 14-7 while posting an NBA-leading 107.9 points per game. The Rockets have also started to clamp down defensively, holding teams to an average of 95.1 during a 6-2 stretch.

After falling 109-103 at woeful Utah on Monday and 97-88 to Phoenix two nights later, Houston cruised to a needed 105-83 win over usually high-scoring Golden State on Friday. James Harden led the way with 34 points while Howard scored 22 and pulled down 18 rebounds for his team-leading 12th double-double.

"The last two games before tonight were terrible, and we don't want to play like that again," Howard said. "We wanted to come in with a lot of energy, defend, push the pace, and win.

"(There) has to be a sense of urgency for us to get a good win, and that's how we played. We're getting a lot better, our chemistry is still growing."

Terrence Jones also came up big with 16 points and 10 boards as the Rockets outscored the Warriors 54-36 in the paint and held them to a season-low 35.5 percent shooting.

"When me and him (Jones) are in the paint causing havoc on both ends of the floor it makes it tough for teams, and we have to bring that every night," Howard said. "We've got to bring that intensity and effort every single night for us to win."

Howard was at his best in his first two matchups against Orlando (6-13) while with the Lakers last season, averaging 30.0 points and 15.5 rebounds. The Magic, who saw Howard go a combined 34 of 60 from the foul line in splitting those games, may try to implement the same strategy.

Orlando has dropped a season worst-tying four straight and 11 of 14, and things won't get any easier if Nikola Vucevic can't go again. The third-year center, averaging 14.7 points and a team-best 10.9 boards, is uncertain to be available after missing the last two games with a sprained left ankle.

"We can't wait on that. That can't be a crutch for us," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "Guys have to step up and be ready to play every night. That's the challenge, that's the job you have as a professional."

Vucevic's presence was certainly missed in Friday's 121-83 loss at New York. Arron Afflalo had 20 points, Victor Oladipo scored 17 and Jameer Nelson added 13 and nine assists in his first game back since missing three with a foot injury.

"It's all a learning process for this team. It's frustrating, but this is the game of basketball and this is how it's going to be sometimes," Oladipo told the team's official website. "We just have to learn from nights this."

Three of the Magic's last four losses have come by at least 18 points. Orlando has allowed 108.8 per contest in going 1-8 on the road,.

"We have a lot of games and a lot of practices ahead of us and a lot of time together to get better," Nelson said. "We just have to focus on that. The attention to detail has to be a lot better in terms of us knowing situations and individual personnel."

Orlando had taken five straight from Houston before giving up 114.5 points in losing both meetings last season.

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