April 15, 2014

It's been an inauspicious start to a season of high expectations for the Houston Rockets, who lost an opener they should have won before being reminded who the cream of the crop is in the Western Conference two days later.

Looking to avoid their first 0-3 opening since 2010, the Rockets make a quick trip to Miami looking to continue their recent strong play against the Heat on Sunday night.

Houston, which advanced to the conference finals last season, had the luxury of beginning 2015-16 with four of five at home, but it's stumbled out of the gate with losses to Denver and defending champion Golden State.

A 105-85 defeat to the Nuggets on Wednesday had plenty to do with the absence of center Dwight Howard, who served a one-game suspension for elbowing Golden State's Andre Iguodala in Game 5 of the conference final when the Rockets were eliminated.

The Warriors then came to town Friday and showed Houston it has a ways to go in the West, handing it a 112-92 loss that was its 10th in 11 meetings, including playoffs. The Rockets won nine of their first 10 last season, with the defeat coming against Golden State.

Houston has been shaky offensively, shooting 35.5 percent a season after averaging 103.2 points - sixth in the NBA - and 44.4 percent shooting. The Rockets also have 34 turnovers and have allowed the opposition to shoot 48.3 percent.

No one player has been struggling more than James Harden, who has gone 10 of 39 from the field, including 3 of 22 from 3-point range. Harden, the runner-up to Stephen Curry in last season's MVP voting, has scored 15 of his 38 points from the free-throw line.

"He's not comfortable, but then, who is?" coach Kevin McHale said. "I mean, I don't see anybody who looks comfortable out there. We're funky."

A game against the Heat (1-1) might be just what Harden and the Rockets need to snap out of that funk. Houston has won three of four meetings, including a two-game sweep last season, behind an average of 108.3 points and 50.3 percent shooting. Houston hit 17 3-pointers - three shy of a season best - in a 108-91 win in its last trip to Miami on Nov. 4.

Harden's numbers against the Heat in those previous four meetings have been strong with an average of 26.0 points and 50.8 percent from the floor. He had 25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds Nov. 4.

Howard has also been solid against Miami over the last two seasons, shooting 66.7 percent with averages of 23.0 points and 13.3 rebounds.

The Heat opened with a win over Charlotte before visiting LeBron James and Cleveland on Friday. Miami played well with five players scoring in double figures, but didn't have much of an answer for James and Kevin Love and lost 102-92.

"This was a great environment," said Dwyane Wade, who scored 25. "I'm glad our team got the chance to play in an environment like this early in the season. Give them credit."

Chris Bosh had 16 points after scoring 21 in the opener, which was his first regular-season game since being sidelined in February because of a blood clot.

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