April 01, 2014

Undeniably helping the Houston Rockets reclaim a place among the NBA's premier offensive teams has been having a healthy and fresh Dwight Howard available.

It's uncertain whether that will be the case when the resurgent Rockets aim for a fourth straight win Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

Houston (10-11) visits Barclays Center for the first of back-to-back games, a scenario where Howard usually sits one night to rest his surgically repaired back. With a matchup at Washington on tap for Wednesday, it's conceivable the All-Star center could be held out against a Nets team that's been one of the league's worst.

Howard did play consecutive nights for the first time this season last week, but showed some lingering effects as he fouled out with eight points on 2-of-6 shooting Wednesday against New Orleans. After subsequently resting Friday at Dallas, the next night he went 7 of 9 from the field in a superb 22-point, 18-rebound effort that helped the Rockets to a 120-113 win over Sacramento.

''He had bouncy legs, you saw that from him,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''He was dominant."

The Rockets are 2-4 without Howard in the lineup, though they had him and still lost 106-98 to the Nets in Houston on Nov. 11. That began a stretch of four straight defeats that triggered coach Kevin McHale's firing a week later.

Houston has bounced back strongly under Bickerstaff, whose decision to start Patrick Beverley over the disappointing Ty Lawson at point guard has paid dividends. The Rockets are 5-1 and have averaged 110.8 points since the move.

Beverley's expanded role has particularly impacted Houston's 3-point shooting and defense, two major problem areas during its slow start. He's 11 of 18 from beyond the arc in the past four games, and the Rockets have forced an average of 18.0 turnovers over their last five with Beverley making 11 steals.

''We're playing better, playing as a team,'' guard James Harden said. ''Defensively we're playing really good.''

Harden has raised his play as well following the coaching switch, averaging 31.6 points and shooting 35.9 percent on 3s in Houston's 10 games under Bickerstaff. The 2014-15 NBA MVP runner-up was previously at 27.3 points and 26.2 percent. He went 5 of 6 from 3 and had 31 points against Sacramento.

The Rockets have won 11 of their last 12 against Brooklyn (5-15) as the visitor, but the Nets' only loss in their last five home games was Sunday's 114-98 defeat to 22-0 Golden State.

Brooklyn owned a 75-70 lead before the Warriors finished the third quarter on a 17-5 run and dominated the fourth.

"We definitely made it a game for a bit, we've just got to win," Brook Lopez told the team's official website.

The Nets played without two rotation players in Andrea Bargnani (hamstring) and rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (ankle), both of whom are unlikely to return Tuesday. Depth was a factor in the teams' earlier meeting, when Brooklyn's bench outscored the Rockets' reserves 56-15.

Bojan Bogdanovic recorded season highs of 22 points and nine rebounds in the Nov. 11 win, but he hasn't scored in double figures in 11 straight.

The Nets and Rockets have split four meetings since Houston won 14 straight in the series from December 2006 to November 2013.

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