Although James Harden and Dwight Howard lead a prolific offense, the Houston Rockets' inability to contain opponents is halting a potential playoff push.
Those struggles may worsen if Anthony Davis returns for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Coach Alvin Gentry believes his All-Star forward will play Wednesday night when the visiting Pelicans try to move closer to a playoff spot by dealing the eighth-place Rockets their 10th loss in 14 games.
Harden has scored 34.0 per game and Howard is averaging 18.6 points and 13.0 rebounds over the past eight for a Houston team that has been fine offensively. The Rockets (29-31) have put up 110.4 points over their last 19 but have given up even more, allowing an NBA-high 113.4 since Jan. 18.
Houston, barely holding on to the final postseason spot with a half-game lead on slumping Utah, dropped its second in a row and sixth in eight games Monday, 128-121 at Milwaukee.
Howard finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds, Harden added 26 and nine assists and Trevor Ariza had 20 and 11. Houston, however, let the Bucks shoot 59.3 percent.
''The offense, for us, will come easy. We can score the ball. We all know that,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''The defensive end of the floor is where the problem is.''
Bickerstaff's club doesn't look like it'll catch a break as it tries to take three of four in the season series with New Orleans (23-35). Davis is listed as day to day after hurting his toe prior to Saturday's 112-110 loss to Minnesota, though his coach sounded more than optimistic Tuesday.
"No pain, no anything, so he'll be ready to go," Gentry said after practice.
Davis has averaged 33.0 points and 13.3 rebounds in his last four games, including a franchise-record 59-point effort in a win at Detroit on Feb. 21. He had scored 26.0 per game in his prior four against Houston before suffering a concussion in the first half of a 112-111 home defeat Jan. 25.
The Pelicans fell to 1-6 without Davis on Saturday, even though Ryan Anderson filled in with 31 points and 14 rebounds and Eric Gordon scored 31 after missing 16 games with a broken finger. Anderson has averaged 18.9 points over his last eight against the Rockets.
New Orleans had won five of seven before losing to the Timberwolves. Now it will try to bounce back and close to within four games of its Southwest Division rivals.
"These games do mean an awful lot, especially when you're (at) the bottom looking up," Gentry said. "For us, every game is going to be like that though. We've just got to have wins if we're going to be any factor in the playoff race."
The Pelicans are averaging 108.1 points over their past eight, but they're also scuffling on the defensive end by allowing 113.5 in the last six. That was the case in the last meeting when Harden had 35 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Ariza added 31 with eight 3-pointers.
Howard did not play in that contest after totaling 15 points in the first two matchups. Gordon led New Orleans with 26 and six 3-pointers and Davis scored 24 in a 110-108 home win Dec. 26.
The Pelicans have lost eight of nine in Houston.