James Harden's absence didn't curb the Houston Rockets' strong play.
With Harden expected to be sidelined again Monday night, the Rockets now look to exploit a Memphis Grizzlies team playing its first contest without Marc Gasol.
Houston (9-5) took a 112-101 home victory over Minnesota on Saturday as Harden missed his second game of the season due to a sore left foot. The Rockets had lost their only previous contest with him sidelined, a 123-117 final in overtime at Philadelphia on Nov. 13.
Though they lacked his scoring punch - he's among the league leaders with 24.2 points per game - Aaron Brooks provided plenty of help with a season-high 26 points off the bench as the team won for the fourth time in five games. He had been averaging 2.8 points.
"It's very difficult," Coach Kevin McHale said regarding Brooks' big performances despite previously playing limited minutes. "He's been working hard though. He really had it going. He was making shots. He's a scorer. Aaron did a great job ."
McHale said Harden visited a doctor Saturday and would see some changes in his treatment plan, though he's expected to sit out on Monday, too.
The Rockets were 17 of 31 from 3-point range, with Brooks going 6 of 7 and Patrick Beverley hitting 5 of 8. Houston is shooting 52.1 percent in its last five games including 42.4 percent from 3-point range.
Memphis has been mediocre in terms of perimeter defense, allowing opponents to hit 36.6 percent of 3-point attempts. The bigger concern for the Grizzlies (7-6) on Monday will likely be inside with Gasol out indefinitely.
The reigning defensive player of the year left early in the second quarter of Friday's 102-86 home loss to San Antonio, grabbing at his left knee after sliding in a defensive stance. An MRI on Saturday revealed a sprained MCL.
Gasol is averaging 16.0 points and 7.1 rebounds and leads the team with 34.4 minutes per game and an 88.5 free throw percentage.
He'll likely be missed most on defense, however, as he leads the team in blocks with 1.1 per game. Memphis has been one of the league's better teams in terms of interior defense, limiting clubs to 39.2 points-in-the-paint per game, but they matched a season-worst by allowing 56 on Friday.
The Rockets score inside as well as anyone, averaging 50.4 points in the paint.
Without Gasol, simply fouling Dwight Howard may not prove as effective of a strategy if his free throw shooting continues to improve. He's averaging 18.2 points over his last six games while hitting 64.1 percent of his free throws. He shot 47.1 percent from the line through his first eight games.
Howard has struggled in his last three games against the Grizzlies, averaging 6.0 points while going 5 for 18 from the floor and 8 for 16 from the foul line. Gasol played in each of those games, totaling six blocked shots.
Kosta Koufos started the second half in Gasol's place on Friday and finished with six points and seven rebounds in a season-high 28 minutes.
Mike Conley continued to play well, finishing with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting. He's averaging career-highs with 19.5 points while shooting 51.6 percent.
The Grizzlies have lost three of four at home with the defeats coming by an average of 15.7 points, but they've won the last five matchups with Houston in Memphis.
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