January 31, 2015

Whether or not there was a rift between James Harden and former Houston coach Kevin McHale, Harden seemed to take it upon himself to will the Rockets to victory even more so once interim boss J.B. Bickerstaff took over.

He finally found out how nice it can be when he gets some help from his teammates.

The Rockets seek a third consecutive victory when they visit the slumping Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Harden averaged 27.3 points but shot just 37.2 percent during Houston's 4-7 start before McHale was fired Nov. 18, ending a reportedly contentious relationship and leading to McHale's wife taking jabs at Harden through social media.

It didn't take long for Harden to move on, scoring 45 points in a win over Portland hours after McHale was let go. It was the first of three 40-point performances during the Rockets' 3-3 stretch that includes a 50-point effort in Friday's 116-114 win over Philadelphia.

Harden, averaging 34.5 points and shooting 44.6 percent under Bickerstaff, had an off night Sunday, going 10 of 28 from the field and missing all seven 3-point attempts while scoring 26.

Four others scored in double figures, though, to help Houston (7-10) beat New York 116-111 in overtime. The Rockets trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter, but Marcus Thornton hit a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left in regulation to help Houston get it to the extra session.

Thornton and Clint Capela (11 rebounds) scored 18 points apiece while Trevor Ariza added 16 and Dwight Howard finished with 14.

It marked Harden's lowest point total in a Houston victory.

''It was a lesson in perseverance,'' Bickerstaff said. ''We got down, but we didn't give in. It is a credit to our guys' mental toughness and fortitude.''

Houston has won eight of the last nine meetings with Detroit after Harden finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a 103-93 victory March 6.

The Pistons (8-9) head into this meeting having lost four of five after falling 87-83 at Brooklyn on Sunday. They've been woeful offensively over their last four, shooting 36.1 percent after making 34 of 101 from the field against the Nets.

That performance dropped Detroit to the bottom of the NBA in field-goal percentage at 40.8. Andre Drummond had his 15th double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished with 21 points.

Reggie Jackson finished 4 of 20 from the field.

''I think what it really came down to is we were mentally very weak,'' coach Stan Van Gundy said. ''We got very frustrated, you know, missing shots, thinking we're getting fouled. It affected our defense. I thought we took several bad shots in the fourth quarter just trying to draw fouls instead of trying to get good shots. I just didn't think we played very smart, poised basketball and that was disappointing.''

The Pistons have fallen off since a 5-1 start as they continue to play without guard Brandon Jennings, who is still recovering from a torn left Achilles suffered in January.

''I like the guys we have. I like the character of our team. I like the fit of our team," Van Gundy said. "We've just got to keep working to improve on both ends and gain experience, both together and individually.''

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