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Houston Rockets aim to continue winning ways against the Kings

Houston Rockets James Harden P.J. Tucker (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden P.J. Tucker (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets look to contain the Kings’ hot-shooting backcourt and shred their lowly defense in an old-fashioned trap game.

Off the heels of their convincing 113-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night, the Houston Rockets are set for battle Sunday evening against the Sacramento Kings. Houston is fourth in the Western Conference at 43-25 and is looking to retain its spot in the middle of the standings for a favorable matchup in the first round.

The Rockets are close to winning the Southwest Division, which will keep them from sliding no lower than the sixth seed, which is important because the Oklahoma City Thunder are only one game back of the fourth spot, and they’ve been riding high since the NBA restart.

Sacramento (29-40, 13th in the Western Conference) are the bottom feeders of the West and are currently 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the playoff picture.

The Rockets last played the Kings on Dec. 23, 2019, and defeated them 113-104 with James Harden leading all scorers with 34 points. The Kings won the previous meeting at the Toyota Center earlier in December thanks to a long-distance buzzer-beating shot by Nemanja Bjelica.

The Kings are 1-4 since the NBA restart, but they’ve shown promise during their downfalls, at least from the offensive end.

De’Aaron Fox is averaging 26.2 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the floor inside the bubble while his backcourt teammate, Bogdan Bogdanovic, has averaged roughly 31 points per game over the previous two games while shooting 61.5 percent from the floor and 10-for-17 from beyond the arc (58.8 percent).

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On defense, the Kings are 21st out of the 22 bubble teams in defensive rating, points per game allowed and opposing field-goal percentage.

The one key the Rockets need to use as a focal point for this game is their team defense. Houston has allowed 107.7 points per game since giving up 149 points to the Mavs in the restart opener. The Kings struggle on defense, but they have no problem scoring the ball. So if the Rockets can neutralize the combination of Bogdanovic and Fox early, they’ll be able to jump-start their offense as they did against the Lakers.

When Houston can apply pressure and block shots at the rim, it allows them to run on the fast break and get wide-open threes in transition or a straight line to the cup. Effective defense will help create more opportunities for them to have a productive offense, and once the Rockets are scoring at will, they’re a tough team to contain.

Eric Gordon (sprained left ankle) and Russell Westbrook (bruised quad) will be inactive for the game. Tip-off is set for Saturday at 8 PM ET.

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