Rockets-Hawks Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Hawks didn't come close to beating the Houston Rockets the last time they met - and that was when Atlanta had its starting center and Houston didn't have its best player.

Friday night's rematch could see the visiting Rockets post a seventh straight win over the Hawks, especially if James Harden continues his sizzling stretch.

Houston (23-13) won 113-84 over Atlanta on Nov. 27 at home even though Harden sat out with a sore left foot. His absence didn't matter as Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia each scored 21 points off the bench for the Rockets, who shot 55.1 percent.

The Hawks (19-17) got 14 points and eight rebounds from Al Horford as he outplayed Dwight Howard (11 and eight) in that matchup, but Horford is out after season-ending surgery on a torn right pectoral muscle.

Even worse for Atlanta is that Harden is averaging 37.7 points over his last three games, shooting 52.9 percent and making 12 of 28 3-pointers (42.9 percent).

"Just being aggressive," Harden said. "My feet have been feeling better. My three ball is feeling good."

No set of teammates averages more free-throw attempts than Harden and Howard, who combine for 18.5 per game. Harden has had at least 10 attempts from the line in three straight games for the first time in 2013-14.

"He's just been very efficient," Howard said. "He is taking good shots and he is getting to the basket and the free-throw line. He is doing what he is supposed to do."

Howard will look to post an 11th straight regular-season double-double in his hometown. He's averaging 16.9 points and 17.3 rebounds in that stretch, although his teams have lost their last five in Atlanta.

That slide may end if the Rockets continue their hot-shooting ways against the Hawks. Houston has made 51.2 percent during this run.

The Rockets begin a four-game trip with three against Eastern Conference foes. They're 10-2 against the East.

One area of concern for the Rockets is that they've trailed after one quarter in four straight games. They have overcome that deficit to win their last two, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 113-99 on Wednesday.

"We've done that a lot," coach Kevin McHale said. "We can't do that on the road. We got to start out, we seem to start easing into the game. We can't ease into a game. Especially on the road."

In contrast, Atlanta got off to a fast start Wednesday and ended a three-game slide with a 97-87 home win over Indiana. The Hawks scored the first 12 points and never trailed as they improved to 3-4 without Horford.

''We're still trying to figure things out without Al,'' said forward Kyle Korver, who scored 17 points. ''It takes time. We're still not there, but tonight was a great win for our team.''

One positive difference in this matchup for Atlanta is that it will have Korver, who missed the first meeting with Houston due to a rib contusion. He owns an NBA-record streak of 105 straight games with a 3-pointer.

Rookie Pero Antic did not play for the Hawks in the first matchup but has started the last four games and scored a season-high 16 against the Pacers.

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