Rockets-Raptors Preview


After getting back to .500, the Houston Rockets are hoping to bring a more consistent effort going forward.

So, too, are the Toronto Raptors, who are coming off their first win in December.

Seeking a season best-tying third consecutive victory, Houston - mired in its longest road losing streak in 11 seasons - tries to avoid a ninth defeat in 10 games at Toronto on Sunday.

Two nights after pulling out a 99-93 victory over Washington, the Rockets (11-11) beat Boston 101-89 on Friday to split a four-game homestand. James Harden shot 6 of 17 but finished with a game-high 21 points while Greg Smith scored 20 off the bench for Houston, which outscored the Celtics by 14 in the second half.

"We have stages where we show pretty good signs of a very good team and then we have signs where we show our youth," said Harden, averaging 30.0 points over his last four games. "We just gotta continue to stick with it for all four quarters. ... The more we play as a team and build our chemistry up, the harder it's gonna be to guard us."

Houston now looks for its momentum to carry over on the road, where it's allowed an average of 111.2 points during a six-game skid - its longest since losing eight in a row in 2001.

The Rockets have had a rough go at it in Toronto (5-19), dropping five straight there by an average of 15.0 points. Things, though, could be different this time around thanks to Harden and Jeremy Lin.

The duo combined for 40 points and 22 assists as Houston cruised to a 117-101 home win over the Raptors on Nov. 27, overcoming 21 points from Andrea Bargnani and holding former point guard Kyle Lowry in check.

While Bargnani (right elbow) and Lowry (right shoulder) both remain sidelined, Toronto snapped a season worst-tying six-game slide Friday, routing Dallas 95-74. Linas Kleiza returned from a two-game absence due to a sore right knee to post 20 points for the Raptors, who had 26 points off 17 turnovers and limited the Mavericks to 39.1 percent shooting.

"Our guys did a good job as a whole," said coach Dwane Casey, whose team entered Friday having dropped 12 of 13. "We have spent the last couple of days getting back to basics. That's the only thing you can do when you are knocked down.

"Everyone that steps on that floor has to be defensive minded. The defensive effort has to be consistent if you want to stay on the floor."

After giving up 94.0 points per game in 2011-12 to rank ninth in the NBA, Toronto is yielding 101.4 this season - one of the league's worst marks

"We're here to win, to lose it got old," Kleiza said. "We've got to put more effort into it. To get back to fundamentals, our defense was great last year. We've kind of got to go back to that."

In addition to trying to slow down Harden and Lin, the Raptors, who haven't put together back-to-back wins since April, could have their hands full with Smith.

The second-year center is starting to see consistent minutes and has scored in double figures three times in seven games this month - including two 20-point efforts.

"Unbelievable, in big games he steps up," Harden said of Smith. "He's learning. ... the more playing time he gets, he's gonna get better."

Houston is 5-0 when Smith scores at least eight points.