The Houston Rockets finally fell flat on Saturday with a 110-101 loss at the Portland Trail Blazers, but the chance to prove themselves against top teams in both conferences looms during a three-game homestand. The host Rockets will start by trying to pick off the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets on Monday.
Houston had a six-game winning streak come to an end with Saturday's setback and lost for just the second time in 11 games as superstar James Harden's run of 40-point games came to an end at five straight. "Honestly that streak is pretty cool for stats and whatnot, but honestly the win is more important," Harden, who finished with 38 points, told reporters. "So, came up short and now we've got another opportunity to go home and play Denver, who's playing exceptionally well. So, we've got to regroup." The Nuggets are winners of five straight and have their own superstar in center Nikola Jokic, who scored a season-high 39 points in Saturday's 123-110 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. "Tonight, I feel like he could've had 50 points," Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters of Jokic. "He missed a lot of chippies and bunnies around the basket, but 39 points, impacts the game in every way possible. And I think he understands for us to be the team that we all want to be, he has to be a big part of that and he has to be aggressive."
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Altitude (Denver), AT&T SportsNet Southwest (Houston) LINE: Rockets -1.5
ABOUT THE NUGGETS (26-11): Jokic got some help Saturday off the bench from shooting guard Gary Harris, who is being worked back into the rotation after missing nearly a month with a hip injury. Harris, who was starting for the team earlier in the season, played his third straight game since returning against the Hornets and filled up the box score with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes while knocking down three 3-pointers. "I feel good," Harris told reporters. "I'm still taking it one day at a time and it's always good to get the win."
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (22-16): Harden joined Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson as the only players with 40-plus points in five consecutive games over the last 50 years, and his string of 10 consecutive games with at least 35 points and five assists is an NBA record. "It's unbelievable now, you grade him on a sharp curve where if he gets 38, now if he doesn't get 40 it's like, 'well, what's wrong with you?'" Houston coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters of Harden. "He's gone up another level, and he'll stay up there. And that's why when people say, 'he can't continue on this tear,' yeah, he can, because he's doing it with ease, as long as he stays healthy." Harden leads the NBA in scoring at an average of 33.7 points and scored at least 30 in 12 consecutive contests.
1. Rockets C Clint Capela grabbed 21 rebounds in each of the last two games.
2. Nuggets PG Jamal Murray was held to eight points on 3-of-13 shooting on Saturday after going for 36 points in a win at Sacramento on Thursday.
3. Harden collected 22 points and 11 assists in a 109-99 win at Denver on Nov. 13 that extended Houston's winning streak in the series to eight straight.
PREDICTION: Rockets 122, Nuggets 120 Bet Now
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