The Sacramento Kings haven't been able to figure out the Houston Rockets yet, and their next attempt will come without one of their top playmakers.
The Rockets will go for their eighth consecutive win in this series on Tuesday night when they visit the Kings, who will play without the suspended Rajon Rondo.
Houston (12-13) is 16-4 against Sacramento since April 12, 2010, including wins in this season's first two meetings. The Rockets have won eight of 10 at Sacramento, including a 116-110 victory on Nov. 6. They added a 120-113 home win on Dec. 5.
With a victory, Houston would rebound from just its third loss in the last 10 games. The Rockets opened a three-game road trip with Monday's 114-108 loss at Denver, a hiccup during a hot stretch that has mitigated a slow start to the season.
James Harden scored 24 points for the Rockets, including five of Houston's season-high 18 3-pointers. The Rockets rallied to cut a 15-point deficit with less than five minutes left to 110-108 in the final minute, but Jason Terry missed a late 3-pointer and the Nuggets sealed the game at the free throw line.
Ultimately, issues on the defensive end did the Rockets in as they were outscored in the paint 62-36 and outrebounded 52-26.
''Our defensive level needs to be at a point where it doesn't matter who our opponent is, we should be able to get stops,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''We didn't get the job done often enough.''
Houston has allowed opponents to score 107.1 points per game, just better than Sacramento's 108.2 as two of the league's worst defenses. The Kings have averaged 104.9 points, compared to 104.4 for the Rockets.
Harden's scoring average has returned to normalcy since a season-low 10 points on Dec. 8. He has averaged 32.0 points in his last three games while making 13 of 22 from long range.
Harden has made 51.4 percent of his shots and 9 of 16 from beyond the arc against the Kings this season while averaging 37.0 points and 11.0 assists. He has averaged 37.5 points in his last eight games against them and 43.3 in his last three trips to Sacramento.
Sacramento (9-15) might have a tough time keeping up offensively without their point guard.
It seemed like the Kings were finally clicking when they recorded consecutive wins last week for the first time in nearly a month. Rondo posted 33 points, 25 assists and 16 rebounds between the two victories, but he is also the reason for the latest setback.
He was suspended by the NBA for one game without pay for a derogatory and offensive term he used toward official Bill Kennedy during a game against Boston in Mexico City on Dec. 3. Kennedy told Yahoo Sports he is gay and that the term Rondo used was a gay slur.
Rondo, who will miss his first action this season, wrote on Twitter that his remarks toward Kennedy ''were out of frustration and emotion, period!''
''They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community,'' he added. ''I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.''
Sacramento has won six of its last eight games at Sleep Train Arena after opening the season 1-5 there, while Houston has lost five of eight on the road.
DeMarcus Cousins sat out this season's first meeting and was held to 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting in the last.