The Charlotte Bobcats put a beating on one Western Conference contender on Saturday and will attempt to do it again when they host the Houston Rockets on Monday. The Bobcats are fighting for positioning in the Eastern Conference and are two games clear of the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks with 12 games left in the regular season. The Rockets have won three straight and are trying to track down the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 spot in the West.
Charlotte gave the Rockets a little breathing room for the No. 4 spot in the West by crushing the Portland Trail Blazers 124-94 on Saturday. Al Jefferson had a big game with 28 points in 29 minutes and could find himself with even more operating room underneath if Houston center Dwight Howard is forced to miss his fourth straight game with an ankle injury. The Rockets have not had much need for Howard in the last three, averaging 123.7 points with James Harden picking up some of the scoring slack and Omer Asik providing solid minutes in Howard’s vacated spot.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, CSN Houston, SportSouth (Charlotte)
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (47-22): Harden put up 37 points and 11 assists on Saturday without leaving the bench in the fourth quarter as Houston built up a big lead and held on for a 118-111 triumph in Cleveland. Harden is one of several Rockets enjoying a free-flowing offense at the moment, and the team has handed out at least 31 assists in each of the last three games. “It’s nice to see when we don’t hold (the ball),” coach Kevin McHale told reporters. “When we hold it and try to make specific plays, that’s when we struggle. When we just make the next play to the open man, that’s when good things happen.”
ABOUT THE BOBCATS (34-36): Good things happen for Charlotte whenever Jefferson has a big night. The star center is averaging 25.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in the Bobcats’ wins while struggling to 17.8 points and 10 boards in the losses. It helps when Jefferson gets some help, and Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson combined for 49 points on Saturday after totaling 20 in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the previous contest. “It felt good out there,” Walker said. “I wanted to redeem myself from the last game. … I knew I had to come out and spark my teammates.”
1. The Rockets have taken six straight in the series, including a 96-83 home win in the season opener on Oct. 30.
2. Houston F Terrence Jones is averaging 16.5 points on 66.7 percent shooting in the last four games.
3. Charlotte has won nine of its last 10 at home.
PREDICTION: Rockets 106, Bobcats 97