Rockets-Spurs Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 27, 2012
The Houston Rockets' high-powered offense is firing on all cylinders of late, and they've compiled an impressive winning streak as a result. The Rockets will have to contend with another of the league's top scoring teams Friday night as they travel to San Antonio to play the Spurs, who have taken the first two meetings this season. Houston and San Antonio rank first and second in points per game at 105.3 and 104.9, respectively, and their most recent matchup didn't disappoint. The Spurs won 134-126 in overtime at Houston on Dec. 10 as both teams saw three players score at least 20 points - and that was with Rockets star James Harden sitting out due to a sprained right ankle. Harden returned the next game and the Rockets (16-12) have won seven of eight and five in a row since. Those last five victories came by an average of 17.2 points with Houston shooting 51.5 percent from the field. An 87-84 win at Minnesota on Wednesday broke a string of three straight victories by 22 or more points, and it was the Rockets' third consecutive road win after they started 2-7 away from home. It was a gritty victory for a team that won by 23 points in Chicago one night earlier. "We were kind of sluggish throughout the game," said Harden, who ranks among the league leaders at 25.8 points per game. "We stuck with it for four quarters. Every game we're not going to score the ball, we're not going to make shots every single game. In different games you have to grind it out and try to force a win." Harden is averaging 29.6 points during the five-game winning streak, and 17 of his 30 points against the Timberwolves came in the fourth quarter. He converted three driving layups in the final 2:14, including the go-ahead basket with :39 left. "When he's playing downhill on you, he's just a monster at that. He's coming at you," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "It's just so hard to defend." The Spurs (22-8) have won three straight overall and seven in a row at home to improve to 11-2 on their own court. A high-scoring attack is nothing new for San Antonio, which ranks fifth in the league over the last three seasons at 102.8 points per game. But with the Spurs aiming for their first title since 2006-07, Tony Parker said the team is placing an even larger focus on defense. San Antonio ranks in the middle of the pack, allowing an average of 97.0 points. "We want to be in the top five for everything defensively," said Parker, who leads the Spurs with 18.8 points and 7.2 assists per game. "We know if you want to win a championship, you have to be in the top five." San Antonio allowed a season low in points in Wednesday's 100-80 win over Toronto, which had won five straight. The Spurs are giving up 88.3 points over their last three contests, which coincides with the return of defensive standout Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, who sat out the previous 18 games with knee tendinitis, has 34 points and 10 steals in three games since coming back. His 4.1 steals per 48 minutes lead the NBA. "With his length and ability to read situations, he can get a lot of deflections and steals that give you a good lift in some parts of the game," teammate Manu Ginobili said. San Antonio won the first meeting 114-92 at home Dec. 7. Houston point guard Jeremy Lin tied a career high with 38 points in the second defeat, the Rockets' fourth in five meetings. Four of the series' last 10 games have gone to overtime.
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