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Nuggets-Rockets Preview

James Harden posted his highest-scoring game of the season in leading the Houston Rockets to victory their last time out.

He may not need to carry as big a load Saturday night with Dwight Howard aiming to return against the visiting Denver Nuggets.

The Rockets (17-5) are hoping to have their All-Star center available after an 11-game absence due to soreness in his right knee. Howard was averaging 18.8 points and a team-leading 11.3 rebounds before going down.

Houston managed to go 8-3 without Howard thanks in large part to Harden, who averaged 29.1 points during his absence. He's averaged 32.8 in the past four games and scored 44 in Thursday's 113-109 overtime win at Sacramento.

Harden made a 3-pointer to tie it with 21 seconds left in regulation, then scored Houston's first 10 points in the extra period.

"(Harden's) the best 2-guard in the league for sure, I think the best player in the league," point guard Patrick Beverley said.

Beverley finished with 15 points, a season-high 10 rebounds and five assists in his third game back since missing six with a hamstring injury. Forward Terrence Jones remains out with a leg injury, and backup point guard Isaiah Canaan is nearing a return after missing six straight with a sprained knee.

"We've been fighting all year, the injury bug," Harden said. "All we have on our backs is the fight."

The Rockets have also been clamping down defensively - they're allowing 95.2 points per game to rank among the NBA leaders, including 92.2 at home. Houston has gone 8-3 on its own court while holding teams to 41.9 percent shooting.

The Rockets are 2-8 in their last 10 against the Nuggets, with both wins coming at home last season. Harden has scored 14, 17, 32 and 10 points in his past four in the series, shooting 29.3 percent in that span.

Nuggets guard Ty Lawson has missed three of those last four meetings, but he's averaged 21.9 points in his past seven against Houston.

Denver (10-12) gave up an average of 108.0 points during a four-game losing streak before bouncing back to beat Miami 102-82 on Wednesday. The Nuggets outscored the Heat 31-14 in the third quarter.

"It felt good to finally get this win, get the monkey off our back and head into these next games," Lawson said.

Lawson scored 10 points and shot 3 of 12 in 30 minutes before sitting out the fourth with the game out of reach. He had averaged just under 43 minutes in the previous four games, including a season-high 49 two nights earlier in a 112-107 overtime loss at Toronto.

"It's like a day off," said Lawson, among the NBA leaders with 10.3 assists per game. "It feels good to get my legs back and have a chance to rest."

Kenneth Faried had 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench after missing the previous two games with a back issue. He's averaged 15.8 points and 9.4 boards over a five-game stretch against the Rockets.

Danilo Gallinari sat out Wednesday with a couple of bone bruises to his right knee, leaving his status for Saturday unclear. The Nuggets were also without Nate Robinson (back) and JaVale McGee (leg).

Denver is 4-8 on the road, where it's allowing an average of 107.0 points to rank near the bottom of the league.

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