April 15, 2014

The Houston Rockets' first two games this week serve as a microcosm of their inconsistent season, as they went from a season-best defensive effort to historically bad.

Maybe a return to a series they have dominated the last three seasons will get them back to the former.

The Rockets hope Friday night's visit from the Minnesota Timberwolves helps steady a rocky stretch as they go for their sixth consecutive win in this series and seventh straight at Toyota Center.

Houston's up-and-down season has led to a 34-34 record and a share of the Western Conference's seventh seed with Dallas, just ahead of Utah.

This week has seen the good but skipped over the bad to the ugly.

On the positive end, the Rockets posted their largest margin of victory with Monday's 130-81 win over Memphis, logging season bests for both opponent points and field-goal percentage (29.7). But on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Clippers made 56.6 percent of their attempts and 12 of 30 3s in beating Houston 122-106.

The opponent field-goal percentage increase of 26.9 is the league's highest in consecutive games since Philadelphia held Charlotte to 30.7 percent on Feb. 9, 2013, before the Clippers finished at 58.7 two days later.

The Rockets seemed to pull out of a funk with four wins in five games from March 2-11, but they have dropped two of three since. Opponents shot at least 54.5 percent in those two defeats while eclipsing 120 points. Houston has surrendered at least 110 in 10 of the last 22 games, and opponents are shooting 50.3 percent in 12 losses during that stretch.

''The intensity wasn't there,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said after the loss to Los Angeles. ''We didn't come out with any force defensively. You give up 35 points and 37 points in two quarters of play against a very good team, coming back is going to be tough if not impossible.''

James Harden pulled out of a shooting funk by making 5 of 10 3s for 33 points to go with eight assists, and the recently signed Michael Beasley had 16 points and eight rebounds.

Harden finished with 27 points and 11 assists to help the Rockets to their fifth straight win in this series with a 107-104 victory on Jan. 13. The Rockets are 9-1 against the Timberwolves since March 15, 2013.

Minnesota (22-46) has won two of three to open a four-game trip. Zach LaVine scored 28 points in each of the last two games and matched a career high with six 3-pointers in Wednesday's 114-108 victory in Memphis.

The Timberwolves equaled a season high for points in any quarter with 42 in the opening frame before holding off a late Grizzlies rally.

''We're just glad we got the win,'' LaVine said. ''The main thing is to just get a win. You win by 20, you win by one, it's a win.''

It was just Minnesota's fifth victory in its last 27 road games. Houston is 18-15 at home and has lost three of its last five there.

While the Rockets held LaVine to 1-of-6 shooting for two points in January, Andrew Wiggins made 9 of 16 shots for 28 points - his third straight game with at least that many against Houston.

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