Wizards-Rockets Preview


The Houston Rockets are still trying to figure out how to blend the talents of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

Getting their starting guards back on the court together would help.

Harden and Lin are both questionable with ankle injuries Wednesday night when the Rockets try to avoid a season-high fourth straight defeat with the league-worst Washington Wizards in town.

The addition of Lin, who signed in July after a breakout season with New York, appeared to be the Rockets' headlining-grabbing move during their busy offseason, but that changed four days before opening night with the surprising deal that landed Harden from Oklahoma City.

While that move has certainly given Houston (9-11) a top-flight scorer - last season's Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 24.7 points - the chemistry between the pair is still a work in progress.

Harden is hitting a career-worst 34.5 percent from 3-point range and committing a career-high 4.1 turnovers per game, while Lin has underperformed, shooting a woeful 39.5 percent and scoring in single digits in half of the team's games.

Coach Kevin McHale needs these two to start jelling - they lead all Rockets duos in minutes played with nearly 557, but they're a minus-32 when on the court together.

McHale was pleased to see Lin break out of his mini-slump in Monday's 134-126 overtime loss to San Antonio - he hit four 3-pointers and poured in a career high-tying 38 points - but it came with Harden watching from the bench with a sprained right ankle.

"We've got to find ways of making sure we get (both guys involved)," McHale told the Rockets' official website. "... Jeremy can get to his right hand on the left side and James can get to his left hand on the right side, so you can do a lot on both sides where both guys get to play to their strong hand when they're driving. We've got to get better at some areas and put in some stuff that will allow both guys to play better. They're going to be fine."

Harden returned to practice on Tuesday, but Lin sprained his left ankle during the end of that workout.

If Lin can't go, reserve Toney Douglas should see more minutes as the Rockets try to avoid their worst skid since a six-game slide spanning April 11-19.

Douglas has 62 points in Houston's last four contests - second to Harden's 83 during this stretch - to boost his average to 7.7.

The Wizards (3-15) are dealing with their own injury concerns as they've been without star point guard John Wall (left knee) all season and are trying to get on track without starting forward Trevor Booker (knee), Trevor Ariza (strained left calf) and A.J. Price (fractured right hand).

Washington, though, has a chance to win two straight for the first time this season after posting its first road victory in nine tries on Tuesday, 77-70 over New Orleans.

Jordan Crawford, the team leader with 14.8 points per game, scored 26 - a season-best for a Wizard.

"I didn't care how many shots I shot (a season-high 24). Turnovers. Nothing," Crawford said. "I just wanted to do whatever it took to win.''

The Wizards have split their last six after their 0-12 start, yet they've dropped three straight and 21 of 25 at Houston since 1987-88 after getting routed 103-76 on Jan. 27.