NBA Basketball

Rockets ride Harden into battle with Heat

MIAMI -- The Houston Rockets, who have five more games before the All-Star break, are trying to finish this phase of their schedule on a high note.

So far, that plan is working.

The Rockets (39-13) beat the Brooklyn Nets 123-113 on Tuesday night and prepare to visit the Miami Heat (29-25) on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Rockets have won 12 of their past 14 games, including two road contests last week against a pair of upper-echelon clubs in the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs.

Wednesday's game against the slumping Heat -- losers of four in a row -- doesn't have the same feel, but it's still important, according to Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni.

"We have professional guys who know how to get up," D'Antoni told The Houston Chronicle. "If we don't play well, they'll beat us. We have to get ready.

"Hopefully, we've learned enough lessons over the years. We want to keep rolling. There's too much at stake to take anyone lightly. Sometimes you lay an egg, but you try to do everything you can to avoid it."

The Heat has laid some proverbial eggs this season, losing five games to last-place teams. The latest example of that came Monday in Miami, where the Heat somehow lost to the struggling Orlando Magic 111-109.

Miami shot 3-of-23 on 3-pointers (13 percent). Orlando shot 13-of-30 on 3-pointers (43.3 percent). Miami's Wayne Ellington, who has been invited to compete in this year's All-Star 3-point shooting contest, missed all eight of his attempts from distance.

"Very uninspiring," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team's performance. "Our defense just dropped off considerably. The level of urgency, detail and enthusiasm to defend dropped off, and we paid the price."

Defense will be even more important Wednesday as the Heat tries to slow down Rockets superstar guard and MVP candidate James Harden, who just picked up his fourth Western Conference Player of the Week award.

He averaged 34.7 points, 10.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals last week as the Rockets went 3-0. Harden has been named Player of the Week a franchise-record 17 times in his brilliant career.

In one of his games last week, against Orlando, Harden produced the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history. He also broke Calvin Murphy's single-game franchise scoring record of 57 points.

Harden leads the NBA in scoring at 31.2 points while also averaging 9.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.84 steals.

Since steals became an official statistic in 1973, no NBA player has ever averaged at least 30 points, nine assists, five rebounds and 1.7 steals.

On Tuesday, he blitzed the Nets for 36 points, five assists and four rebounds. He has 14 games this season with at least 35 points, the most in the NBA. He also surpassed 15,000 career points on Tuesday.

If dealing with Harden is not bad enough for Miami, the Heat figures to be short-handed Wednesday. Starting power forward Kelly Olynyk suffered a strained or possibly separate left shoulder.

Olynyk, who got hurt while setting a screen in Monday's first quarter, is likely out for a while.

"It's pretty painful," said Olynyk, who broke his shoulder in high school but has had not issues since. "We just have to see how it reacts."

Meanwhile, Houston on Tuesday got a bit healthier as Eric Gordon returned after back stiffness cost him two games. Houston's Trevor Ariza is still out with a left-hamstring injury.

Updated February 7, 2018

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