Bucks-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

The Houston Rockets put together a terrific first half against one of the NBA's best teams before falling apart in record-setting fashion down the stretch.

They aren't likely to run into trouble against the league's worst club.

Houston looks to get back on track Saturday night when it hosts the Milwaukee Bucks, who again try for their first win in 2014.

The Rockets (26-15) scored a season-high 73 points over the first two quarters and took a 14-point lead into halftime against Oklahoma City before coming undone in Thursday's 104-92 loss. Houston shot 19.4 percent and was outscored 45-19 over the final 24 minutes, setting an NBA record for the largest scoring differential between two halves.

"There is a lot of stuff I want to say, but next game we have to be better and I've got to be better," said Dwight Howard, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. "We gave them confidence tonight and in order for us to be good against a team like this, we've got to step it up. Tonight wasn't good for us."

The Rockets shot 40.2 percent for the game, dropping to 0-7 when they're below 42.0 percent. James Harden, averaging a team-leading 24.4 points, was held to 16 for the second time in three games while going 6 of 16 from the field.

"We couldn't make a basket. We couldn't sustain anything," coach Kevin McHale said. "We had some run-outs but we just got stagnant after a while with people trying to do it on their own, which we can't do. When the ball moves we are a lot better."

The Rockets have to like their chances of regrouping against Milwaukee (7-31), which has dropped 15 of 17, including all seven games this month by an average of 14.0 points. None of the Bucks' wins have come against teams with winning records.

While the Bucks have taken three of five from Houston there has been significant roster turnover. However, Ersan Ilyasova played a big role in a 110-107 win at Houston on Feb. 27, posting 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Averaging a league-low 91.3 points, Milwaukee was held to under 80 for the eighth time in Wednesday's 82-77 loss to Memphis. Brandon Knight had 27 points but Ilyasova scored just four on 2-of-11 shooting.

The Bucks had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but center Larry Sanders missed his only 3-point attempt of the season after the Grizzlies forced the ball out of Knight's hands.

"All throughout the game, not just the last play, there were things that we didn't execute the way that we should have, and that's something that we have to be better at," Knight said.

While things haven't gone its way, Milwaukee continues to put its best foot forward.

"I just try to stay positive, just try to stay grounded," Knight said. "Everybody at this level has won at some point in their life and is accustomed to winning. So it's frustrating, but for us, we just have to keep pushing and keep looking ahead and not buy into what our record is, but just continue to play hard and try to build."

The Bucks are 5-4 when Knight scores at least 19 points compared to 0-21 when he doesn't. They are 1-11 against the Western Conference while the Rockets are 12-3 versus the East, winning all eight of the games in Houston.

Harden is averaging 25.7 points while shooting 51.0 percent in three career starts versus Milwaukee.

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