Fresh off a victory over the defending champions that continued to validate their improved level of play, the Houston Rockets will return to NBA in-season tournament play Friday with a road matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Rockets extended their winning streak to six games Sunday with a 107-104 home victory over the Denver Nuggets and had a four-day break before the start of a three-game California trip.
Houston is 1-0 in West Group B standings of in-season tournament play, while Los Angeles is 0-2.
Over the previous three seasons, the Rockets had mustered just 59 victories combined since the start of the 2020-21 campaign. But this season’s Rockets, under new head coach Ime Udoka, have flourished after an 0-3 start.
Alperen Sengun leads Houston with 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Fred VanVleet leads with 7.9 assists and it has been a well-rounded team with all five starters scoring at least 12.3 points per game.
The Rockets are allowing 105.8 points per game, third best in the NBA heading into play Thursday. Houston is holding its opponents to 32.3 percent from 3-point range, the best in the league.
On Sunday, the Rockets led 98-88 with 3:49 remaining, saw the Nuggets pull within one point with 19.5 seconds remaining then hit 4 of 6 free throws in the closing seconds.
The Clippers are in desperate need of their own success. They are on a six-game losing streak and are 0-5 since the arrival of James Harden in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, showing that not all clusters of stars make a perfect constellation.
The group of Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook insists the team is close to putting it all together. The Clippers also faced the Nuggets in their most recent game, falling 111-108 at Denver on Tuesday.
With backup big man Mason Plumlee out for an extended time with a knee injury, the Clippers reportedly will add Daniel Theis, who agreed to a contract buyout from the Indiana Pacers. Los Angeles also converted guard Josh Primo to a standard contract, according to reports.
Theis, a 6-foot-8 forward, could be available as early as Friday.
After an embarrassing 144-126 road loss to the Dallas Mavericks last Friday, the Clippers seem to be making some strides, holding their last two opponents to an average of 108 points. But they are scoring 105 per game since Harden’s arrival.