Hawks-Rockets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 30, 2012
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If Josh Smith misses another game, the Atlanta Hawks will still have plenty of confidence in their offense as they open their trip. That doesn't bode well for a Houston Rockets team giving up points - and giving the ball away - at an alarming rate. Going for just its third win in Houston in 21 years, Atlanta will try to extend its winning streak to five on Monday night when these teams close out 2012 and their season series. Without Smith - the team's leading scorer at 16.6 points per game - who aggravated a hip flexor in Friday's 102-94 victory at Cleveland, and Devin Harris (sore left foot) and Anthony Morrow (strained right hip), the short-handed Hawks (19-9) defeated Indiana 109-100 on Saturday. "Guys scored some key points," said center Al Horford, who finished with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists despite playing with a right hip contusion. "We got stops when we needed to. That was a game where we got better.'' The Hawks would obviously prefer to have Smith back as they open their three-game stretch outside Atlanta, but Zaza Pachulia has been more than a capable backup, averaging 8.4 points and 9.1 rebounds in seven starts this season after scoring 17 with a season high-tying 14 boards on Saturday. "Zaza is going to do whatever it takes to be ready, whether he starts or whether he comes in off the bench," coach Larry Drew told the Hawks' official website. First-year Hawks guard Lou Williams - last year's runner-up to Houston's James Harden for Sixth Man of the Year honors - is proving to be an effective starter. Since Drew inserted Williams into the starting shooting guard spot four games ago, he is averaging 17.8 points and 6.5 assists after scoring 21 with a career-best 12 assists on Saturday. Atlanta is scoring 107.3 points per game on 49.8 percent field-goal shooting during its surge. While the Hawks are going for their first five-game win streak since a season-best six-game stretch spanning Nov. 16-28, the Rockets (16-14) are in bounce-back mode after a pair of setbacks. Coming off a 122-116 loss at San Antonio on Friday that ended its season-best five-game winning streak, Houston suffered its most lopsided home loss in three seasons on Saturday, 124-94 to Oklahoma City. It's the first time the Rockets have surrendered 120 in back-to-back games since a three-game stretch from April 7-11, 1995. "We're going to go through tough times like this," forward Chandler Parsons told the Rockets' official website. "We're going to go through great stretches like we just went through but we're going to learn and get better together." The Rockets have to get better with the basketball after committing a season-high 24 turnovers in each of the last two games. Harden and Jeremy Lin each have a team-high nine during that stretch. Harden, though, has reached the 20-point plateau in a career-best 12 consecutive games. The last Rocket to have a stretch that long was Yao Ming, who reached 20 in 14 straight from Feb. 22-March 20, 2006. Harden netted a career-high 45 points as the visiting Rockets won their fourth in this row series on Nov. 2, 109-102. Houston has won two straight at home over Atlanta after posting a 95-84 victory last New Year's Eve.
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