October 29, 2014

While the Houston Rockets are treating the season's second half like a fresh start, the Utah Jazz want to regain the momentum they carried into the All-Star break.

Both look to start a push to separate themselves from the Western Conference's bubble Tuesday night when the visiting Rockets seek a fourth straight win over the Jazz.

Houston (28-28) was one of the NBA's bigger disappointments in the opening three and a half months and stumbled into the break with three consecutive double-digit losses at the tail end of a 2-6 slump. Utah (27-28) took advantage with wins in seven of eight during that stretch, leapfrogging the Rockets for the West's No. 8 spot.

But that order reversed again last week when Houston returned with Friday's 116-100 win at Phoenix while the Jazz opened the second half with losses in two of three games.

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who took over for the fired Kevin McHale in November, called the Rockets a "broken team" prior to the hiatus, but he acknowledged that the win over the lowly Suns was a good start fueled by tight defense and domination in the paint, improving Houston to 12-15 away from home.

The Rockets held Phoenix to 36.6 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers while holding a 56-30 scoring advantage in the paint and 51-40 edge on the boards.

"We've got an opportunity in the second half to make a push," said James Harden, who had 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. "That's one of (26) left. A good start."

The Rockets seemed poised for a turnaround the last time they faced Utah, sweeping an home-and-home set in early January to open a season-high five-game win streak.

While Houston shot 50.3 percent between the two games - a 93-91 win at Utah on Jan. 4 and a 103-94 home victory three days later - Utah finished at 44.4 with 35 turnovers. Harden totaled 63 points, but he had 12 turnovers and was 4 of 19 from 3-point range.

The victories gave the Rockets three straight in this series and a 10-2 mark since December 2012, including wins in four of six in Salt Lake City.

The latest matchup will include one of their leading scorers after it appeared he'd been traded away. Detroit, though, rescinded a three-team deal Monday after Donatas Motiejunas was not cleared medically, sending him and Marcus Thornton back to Houston.

Thornton is the Rockets' fourth-leading scorer with 10 points per game over 47 contests, but Motiejunas hasn't played since Dec. 31 due to back problems that stem from surgery last April. That issue ultimately voided a deal in which the Rockets had acquired veteran Joel Anthony and a protected, first-round draft pick from the Pistons as well as the draft rights of forward Chukwudiebere Maduabum from Philadelphia.

Utah's acquisition at the deadline, Shelvin Mack, made an immediate impact in his first action, though the Jazz fell 115-111 at Portland on Sunday for their third loss in four games to follow a seven-game winning streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 9.

Mack finished with season highs of 16 points and six assists after coming over from Atlanta last week for a second-round pick.

"I felt comfortable," the point guard said. "It is a similar system to what we ran in Atlanta."

Utah, which has won its last six home games to improve to 18-10 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, is one of the league's top defensive teams by allowing 96.8 points per game, but the Trail Blazers shot 46.7 percent and scored 68 in the second half.

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