The Houston Rockets hope easing into the new year hasn't cooled off their top scorer.
James Harden and the Rockets end a five-day break and play just their second game of 2014 when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
When the Rockets (22-13) last hit the floor Jan. 3 against New York, Harden was close to unstoppable. The shooting guard went 10 of 19 from the floor and hit all 12 of his free throws, finishing with 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Harden, who had 38 points and 10 rebounds in a New Year's Eve loss against Sacramento, has attempted at least 12 free throws five times this season and the Rockets are 4-1 in those games - the lone loss coming against the Lakers on Nov. 7.
"Hopefully this rest can help get guys back, help us get our legs, and all the guys get our focus on what each and every guy needs to do from here on out for this team to be successful," Harden said.
"For me, being healthy, just staying in the gym, I'm kind of getting my shot back. These last couple games have been pretty good for me, just have to be consistent."
The Rockets, though, have struggled mightily from 3-point range over their last five games, shooting 26.5 percent (35 for 132) since a 12-for-24 performance in a Christmas Day win at San Antonio.
The Lakers (14-21) will be playing their second game in as many nights after losing 110-97 at Dallas on Tuesday.
Jodie Meeks scored 24, while Pau Gasol, who had been averaging 24.3 points on 48.6 percent shooting in the previous three games, had 15 on 5-of-14 shooting.
"We've got some guys who are struggling right now, and some guys playing well," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Then in the next game, the guys who were struggling play well and the others start struggling."
Los Angeles is 3-4 this season in the second leg of back-to-backs, scoring 92.0 points per game in those contests - nearly eight lower than its season average.
The Lakers had one of their better games from the outside this season in the first meeting with the Rockets. Steve Blake hit the last of the team's season-high 16 3-pointers with 1.3 seconds left to lift Los Angeles to a 99-98 win in Houston on Nov. 7.
"We made some mistakes, and they made some tough 3s," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of that game. "They're going to shoot a lot of 3s, and you can't stop a team from shooting 3s. But you can contest and try to get a hand up.
"We just have to contest, get the ball and run ourselves."
Former Lakers center Dwight Howard, who signed with the Rockets in the offseason, had 15 points and 14 rebounds in the loss. He missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter and went 5 of 16 at the line in the game.
Harden also attempted 16 free throws in that one, but he hit 14 of them to finish with 35 points despite going 9 for 24 from the field.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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