The Houston Rockets turned themselves into playoff contenders by trading for James Harden this offseason.
While Thomas Robinson may not have as big an impact, Houston is counting on some key contributions from the highly touted rookie.
Coming off one of their more impressive efforts of the season, the visiting Rockets try for a 13th consecutive win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.
Houston (30-26) acquired Harden in a six-player deal with Oklahoma City just days before the season started, a move that's paid significant dividends.
The Rockets, whose last postseason appearance came in 2009, hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. That success is due in large part to Harden, who ranks fifth in the NBA with 26.5 points per game.
The Rockets made a couple of other moves before the deadline, most notably bringing Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt over from Sacramento on Wednesday in exchange for starting forward Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas. Houston also sent Marcus Morris to Phoenix for a 2013 second-round pick.
It's unclear if the new additions will be available Friday, but general manager Daryl Morey is certainly looking forward to seeing the No. 5 overall pick in action.
"Thomas is a guy people are going to love," Morey said of Robinson, who averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 boards in limited minutes with the Kings. "High-energy, runs the floor, led the country in rebounding when he was at Kansas. He's a guy we really think has the potential to be a starting big man in this league and has a lot of upside.
"Obviously he's still young, and he's somebody who's going to compete for minutes and try to help us win down the stretch."
The short-handed Rockets got word of that trade roughly 20 minutes before facing the Thunder on Wednesday. Houston, though, managed to erase a 14-point deficit with just over seven minutes left in a 122-119 win.
Harden scored a career-high 46 points on 14-of-19 shooting against his former team, going 7 of 8 from 3-point range. He also added eight rebounds and six assists.
"He's a phenomenal offensive force. He can drive it. He' s got the ability to shoot it. He's got the ability to beat you off the bounce. I think he's almost unguardable off the catch," coach Kevin McHale said. "His first step is so deceptively fast and strong and he changes direction...when he plays off the catch I just think he's absolutely as good as it gets. ... He's just a (heck) of a basketball player."
Harden is averaging 34.8 points over his last five games and the Rockets have averaged 116.2 while winning eight of the last 11 games that he's been in the lineup.
Houston has had few problems producing offensively against the Nets (33-22), who've been outscored by an average of 16.0 points over the last 12 matchups in this series. Harden had 29 points, Omer Asik posted 20 and 16 rebounds and Chandler Parsons scored 16 to go along with a career-high 11 assists as the Rockets beat Brooklyn 119-106 on Jan. 26.
The Nets, though, have won four in a row, including a home-and-home sweep of Milwaukee. One night after Joe Johnson beat the overtime buzzer to give his team a 113-111 win, Brooklyn came from 15 down in Wednesday's 97-94 road victory.
Deron Williams had 23 points and eight assists but was the only starter to score in double figures. C.J. Watson added 17 points and Andray Blatche posted 12 and 12 rebounds.
"Every game isn't going to be pretty," said Williams, who continues to play though ankle pain. "You are going to have these grind-it-out games. We got down and we are able to fight back and keep our composure and get a win."
The Nets are 8-0 when Watson scores at least 11 points. He's averaged 17.7 in the past three games.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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