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Rockets-Thunder Preview

AP - Sports

The Houston Rockets have defeated some of the NBA's top teams while rolling at home lately, and they'll look to take that strong play on the road as they embark on a three-game trip against more top competition.

The Rockets take on one of the two teams above them in the Western Conference when they open the trip Tuesday night against the struggling Oklahoma City Thunder.

Behind the shooting of James Harden, the Rockets extended their win streak to five Sunday night, rallying to beat Portland 118-113 in overtime. Harden scored 41 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, as Houston came back from a 12-point deficit to force the extra period. The Rockets then held the Trail Blazers without a point for the final 2:15 of overtime to seal the win.

The victory capped a week that saw the Rockets (44-19) also grab home wins over Miami and Indiana, the top two teams in the East.

"I think it's big. I think every game impacts the next game," said guard Jeremy Lin, who had 26 points against Portland. "You see guys go in crazy streaks and a lot of it is just keeping momentum or building off of whatever you've been working with."

Houston is hoping to keep its momentum on the offensive end going on the trip after averaging 111.0 points over the five-game win streak while shooting 48.9 percent. That could be a challenge as it will face Oklahoma City (46-17), Chicago and Miami, teams that rank in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

The Rockets are third in the West, trailing conference-leader San Antonio by 2 1/2 games. The Thunder are one-half game behind the Spurs.

"Each game is important from here on out," Harden said. "We're fighting for positioning. We're fighting for home-court advantage, so no matter who we play it's going to be a tough game."

Harden, acquired from Oklahoma City prior to the 2012-13 season, has struggled to beat his former team. The Thunder are 8-3 against the Rockets over the last two seasons, including a first-round series win in the playoffs last season and victories in both meetings in 2013-14. Harden is averaging 24.5 points but shooting 39.6 percent in those contests.

Oklahoma City has dropped two straight and five of eight since the All-Star break, losing 114-110 on the road to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Kevin Durant (27 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), Serge Ibaka (21 points, 15 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (20 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) all had big games, but the Thunder were unable to make key stops on the defensive end.

Coach Scott Brooks said he knows the Thunder will need to play better defensively against Houston after they also allowed 128 points at Phoenix on Thursday.

"We worked on a lot of defensive things that we have to get better at," Brooks told the team's official website. "One of the things I love about our group is that we've always tried to figure out ways to do it together, whether we won a game or are not playing well and losing a game. We still want to figure out how to get better together."

Durant has averaged 34.5 points and 9.0 rebounds against the Rockets this season, while Westbrook missed the first two meetings because of injuries.

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