Rockets-Pelicans Preview

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NEW ORLEANS — Since Dec. 1, the Houston Rockets won 36 of 50
games, a sustained stretch of excellence fueled by an offense
that lately has been more lethal and efficient than Golden
State’s.

In routing the Los Angeles Lakers 139-100 on Wednesday night,
the high-octane Rockets had their 10th game this season in
which they have scored at least 130 points, the most in the
franchise’s 46-year history in Houston.

Although the Rockets (47-21) face a far stingier defense Friday
night when they take on the Pelicans (27-41) at the Smoothie
King Center, expect the scoreboard to morph into beast mode.

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DeMarcus Cousins, however, will not take part in the contest
due to left knee soreness and a right rib contusion.

Cousins logged 30 minutes in each of the Pelicans’ last two
games before undergoing an examination by team medical staff on
Friday morning. The Kentucky product underwent an MRI on his
left knee during the exam which produced negative results and
he is considered day-to-day.

The Rockets were the first team to play the new-look Pelicans’
frontline of Anthony Davis and Cousins on Feb. 23, and burned
New Orleans 129-99 by making 20 of 51 from long range,
including 7 of 11 from newly acquired guard Lou Williams.

At the time, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his goal was for
the Rockets to take at least 50 3-pointers per game, adding,
“we will live with the results.”

The results have been fairly mind-boggling. The Rockets won 25
of 26 games when they score at least 120 points. Only Golden
State has a better offensive efficiency rate per 100
possessions, and that lead has shrunk to two-tenths of a point.

Williams was the offensive catalyst again for the Rockets on
Wednesday against the Lakers, scoring a team-high 30 points
against his former team. He made his first seven shots.

The Rockets have been playing so well that D’Antoni, mindful of
the playoffs, is carefully apportioning the minutes. D’Antoni
may hold out Nene against New Orleans and go with the center
tandem of Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell.

D’Antoni also is scaling back practice over the last month of
the season to keep his players’ legs fresh.

“We try to lighten up a little bit now, try to cut back,”
D’Antoni said. “Then, we’ll hit it hard right before the
playoffs and get back in the mode when you have to grind it
out, hopefully, for a month and a half, two months.

“There’s no handbook what’s right or wrong. I have no idea.
Just try to go by feel. Different players respond to different
things. We’ll try everything. You throw spaghetti against the
wall. Some will stick. We’ll go with it. These guys are good.
We’ll just try to not mess them up.”

The Rockets won seven of the last eight meetings with New
Orleans. Houston’s most recent 30-point victory came despite
Cousins and Davis combining for 56 points and 23 rebounds in
the debut of the Twin Towers’ offense.

New Orleans showed some signs of improvement offensively,
winning consecutive games against Charlotte and Portland before
losing 120-112 on the road to Miami on Wednesday night.

“We were shooting twos and they were making threes,” Davis
said. “Three beats two any day of the week.”

The Pelicans got some good Thursday when the NBA rescinded a
technical foul against Cousins — which would have been his
19th of the season and subjected to him to another, automatic
one-game suspension if he had picked up another.

Cousins was originally called for the technical when he pushed
away the arms of Heat center Willie Reed. His 18 technical
fouls lead the NBA.

The Pelicans also made a longer-term roster decision by signing
guard Jordan Crawford, who had been playing on a 10-day
contract, to a two-year deal. Crawford has been a revelation
from the perimeter, averaging 14.2 points per game on 51
percent shooting off the bench.

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