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Rockets-Nuggets Preview

It's taken a while, but the Houston Rockets are finally back at .500.

Whether they feel like they've regained last season's form that resulted in a berth in the Western Conference finals is another matter.

The Rockets look to make it eight wins in 10 games Monday night when they visit the last-place Denver Nuggets, who have also been playing better lately.

James Harden scored 30 points to lead Houston (12-12) to a 126-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.

''We've come a long way,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''We've got to give guys credit for accepting responsibility of where we were and accepting responsibility and putting responsibility on themselves that they had to do something to change it.''

The Rockets shot 52.2 percent from the field and 15 for 33 from 3-point range. They limited the Lakers to 40 percent shooting and 10 for 32 from beyond the arc.

Houston has scored more than 100 points in nine straight games, averaging 111.7 in that span to push their season average to 104.2.

Rockets reserves scored 55 points Saturday, led by Marcus Thornton with 18. The bench has averaged 39.1 points in the past nine after scoring 24.0 per game prior to that stretch.

"We are a better-than-.500 basketball team," Bickerstaff said. "Obviously the record speaks for itself, but we have to get ourselves there.

We're close," he added. "We're right on the cusp of it, I believe."

Thornton also scored 32 in a loss at Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Harden, who's scored 30 or more in three of his past four games, has averaged 33.8 points in his last five against Denver.

Houston hasn't been above the break-even mark since a four-game winning streak Nov. 2-7 left it at 4-3.

The Rockets have dropped two in a row against the Nuggets (9-14), falling 107-98 on the road in the most recent matchup Nov. 13. Danilo Gallinari scored 27 points and Will Barton 26 for Denver, which limited Houston to 9 for 29 from 3-point range.

Gallinari hit a 3-pointer to put Denver ahead late in overtime and the Nuggets overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat Minnesota 111-108 on Friday. The forward scored a game-high 23, including nine in OT, as Denver ended a five-game home losing streak and won for the third time in four contests.

The Nuggets have reached the 100-point mark three times in that stretch after doing so twice during an eight-game skid that preceded it.

''I thought we needed a game like that to be able to win in clutch time like this,'' said Gallinari, who's scored 21 or more in three of the past four and has his average at a career-best 17.7. ''We didn't play very good in the first half and we were able to be much better in the second half. That was great for everybody.''

Gallinari has totaled 50 points in his last two games against Houston.

''Gallinari, who was struggling in the second half, made some real big plays down the stretch, which we needed,'' coach Michael Malone said. ''It was a great way to end that five-game losing streak at home.''

The Rockets are opening a three-game trip that completes a stretch of eight of 11 on the road. They face Sacramento on Tuesday.

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