Rockets-Kings Preview

The Associated Press

A pair of impressive wins over potential championship contenders have increased the Houston Rockets' odds of going to the postseason.

The potential return of Kyle Lowry combined with a favorable upcoming schedule appear to be a good chance for them to further help their cause.

Lowry could be back Sunday night when the Rockets begin a stretch of four games against teams outside the playoff race by aiming for a season sweep of the Sacramento Kings.

Houston (30-25) has won six of nine, following Monday's 99-93 win at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago with a 112-107 victory Friday at the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers.

The Rockets are currently tied with Dallas for sixth in the Western Conference, one-half game ahead of eighth-place Denver and two behind Memphis for fifth.

A seemingly favorable upcoming schedule could help them solidify their position. After visiting the Kings (19-37), Houston caps its four-game trip at Portland on Monday before returning home to face Utah on Wednesday and Phoenix two nights later.

Leading scorer Kevin Martin (17.1 points per game) is still nursing a shoulder injury, but the Rockets may be about to get their starting point guard back in the lineup.

Lowry returned to practice earlier this week, but Friday marked the 15th game in a row he's missed while recovering from a bacterial infection. It remains unclear exactly when he will return to game action, but getting him back would likely give the Rockets a big lift.

Lowry, averaging career highs of 15.9 points and 7.2 assists, had 25 points and nine assists in Houston's 103-89 home win over the Kings on Jan. 13.

Houston also did just fine without him March 26, beating Sacramento 113-106 in overtime - also at home.

Goran Dragic has helped pick up the scoring slack with Lowry out, averaging 18.5 points and 8.7 assists in the past 15 contests. Dragic has been even better in the last four games, averaging 23.5 points while hitting 55.9 percent of his field goals overall and shooting 9 of 18 from beyond the arc.

Dragic had 14 points and 10 assists in the most recent matchup with Sacramento.

The Kings enter this meeting losers of eight of 10 overall, surrendering an average of 107.7 points in that stretch.

They struggled defensively again Saturday, allowing the Los Angeles Clippers to make 11 of 27 3-pointers en route to a 109-94 defeat at Staples Center to complete a home-and-home sweep.

Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 20 rebounds, but shot just 5 of 19 from the floor and 5 of 9 from the free-throw line. Despite his struggles, at least he was able to remain on the court after being limited by foul trouble to 18:28 of a 93-85 home loss to the Clippers two days earlier, eventually fouling out.

Cousins' 222 personal fouls are the most in the NBA, while his 11 technicals rank second. He also got fined $25,000 by the NBA on Friday for criticizing officials. However, he also has 33 double-doubles - the most by a King since Chris Webber's 45 in 2002-03.

"I'm trying to stay low and just sticking to playing basketball,'' he said."

Cousins had 38 points and 14 rebounds in last month's loss at Houston.

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