Rockets riding high as Knicks come to town

Over two months ago, the Houston Rockets needed all 61 of James Harden's points to eke past the New York Knicks.

With three games remaining before the postseason, the Rockets hope they will not need that many points from Harden Friday night when they host the league-worst Knicks.

The Rockets (51-28) enter Friday in third place in the Western Conference with four straight wins and 18 wins in their last 21 games since Feb. 21. Houston is a 1 1/2 games behind second-place Denver, a half-game up on fourth-place Portland and 2 1/2 ahead of fifth-place Utah.

While the Rockets are hosting the Knicks, they will be monitoring the out-of-town scoreboard, as Denver hosts Portland and Utah hosts Sacramento.

They will hope to be doing so after taking care of business, rather than holding on for a 114-110 win over the league's worst team. That was the outcome of Houston's last game against the Knicks on Jan. 23, when Harden posted a career high and tied the record held by Kobe Bryant for the most points by an opposing player at Madison Square Garden.

In the last meeting, Harden hit two go-ahead free throws with 30 seconds remaining and a game-sealing dunk with 3.8 left. He shot 17 of 38 and played 40 minutes. Since then, Harden has played 40 minutes or more six times, but he has played under 40 in seven straight games.

On Wednesday, Harden scored 31 points in 30 minutes, and the Rockets cruised to a 135-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was Houston's fourth straight double-digit win and the 11th by double digits since the All-Star break.

"It's the best we've played, and it's the right time," Harden said

The Rockets hope to get similar showings from Chris Paul, who scored 29 points against his old team, his second-highest total of the season. Clint Capela added 24 points and 15 rebounds.

"(Chris) is dialed in, and James, too," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said after his team shot 53.4 percent and hit 18 3-pointers. "When they play like that, it's pretty tough to lose. We played unbelievably."

The Rockets have won the last six meetings with the Knicks and 25 of the last 27. They are trying to sweep the season series for the 12th time in 14 seasons, facing an opponent whose 15-63 record is 2 1/2 games ahead of Phoenix for the league's worst.

New York must win three of its final four games to avoid matching the worst record in team history, set during the 2014-15 season. The Knicks head to Houston on an eight-game road losing streak and with 15 losses in their last 17 games, since getting consecutive home wins over San Antonio and Orlando on Feb. 24-26.

New York broke a six-game losing streak by beating Chicago on Monday but took a 114-100 loss in Orlando on Wednesday night.

Despite the double-digit loss, Knicks coach David Fizdale was somewhat pleased with how his team responded and is hoping for more of that Friday.

"I was really happy with the way we came in here and played," Fizdale said. "We're playing these games like they're playoff games for us. We gave ourselves a chance, we just didn't finish it off."

Mario Hezonja scored 29 points and was in the starting lineup because Fizdale promised him he would start in Orlando, against his former team. Hezonja likely will come off the bench Friday as Fizdale goes back to starting Luke Kornet, who scored 41 points across the previous two games.

The Knicks played Wednesday's game without rookie Allonzo Trier (strained left calf), Dennis Smith Jr. (back), Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and Kadeem Allen (concussion). All four players may be out again on Friday.

--Field Level Media
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