NBA

Hornets will have hands full with Rockets

As if the Houston Rockets weren't dangerous enough on offense. Things are starting to really click for coach Mike D'Antoni's team.

Houston has the third-best record in the NBA at 38-17. The Rockets' resume includes victories over Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

James Harden has emerged as the MVP leader, while Eric Gordon easily could earn the Sixth Man of the Year award. D'Antoni's name will be included in a handful of Coach of the Year candidates.

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While the league might be in awe of the Rockets' offense, D'Antoni understands titles are won with defense.

"Someone said, 'Falling out of bed we'll get 100, 110 points just doing nothing,'" D'Antoni said. "But our whole key going forward is just can we hold them under 100, we're like 17-0. ... If we do we're going to be good. We don't, we're fooling ourselves."

And if Tuesday's 128-104 win over the Orlando Magic is any indication of things to come, let the rest of the NBA be warned, especially the Charlotte Hornets, who play host to the Rockets on Thursday.

The Hornets had been mired in a seven-game skid, but thanks to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte got back on the winning track with a 111-107 win on Tuesday.

Seven Charlotte players scored in double figures for the Hornets (24-28), who have lost 12 of their previous 16 games. They had a big lead against Brooklyn and watched the Nets cut a double-deficit to two before pulling out the win.

"Winning in this league is hard," Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said. "We had good intensity for the most part. Obviously in the second half we struggled to guard them. But we needed a win and that's the most important thing. So hopefully now we can get that feeling back."

That euphoric feeling might not last very long as the Rockets present a much more difficult challenge.

Houston has gone .500 over its past eight games but has won five of its past six games against the Hornets, including a 121-114 win in Toyota Center last month. In that game, Harden recorded a triple-double, scoring 40 points, dishing out 15 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Charlotte's All-Star guard Kemba Walker was resolute after the game.

"We tried everything in our power trying to get a win," said Walker, who scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out 10 assists. "That's a really good team and we're at their house and it was really tough. We played as hard as we could but we just fell short."

Houston is in the midst of a six-game road trip where each opponent is below .500. And opponents are learning the Rockets have become more than just Harden from beyond the arc, Harden down the lane, Harden at the free-throw line.

"I love what we have, love it," Harden tweeted. "From top to bottom, we have depth. You can throw any guy in there and they know their role, that's important. I'm going to ride with these guys for sure."

The Rockets played one of their most complete games against the Magic. Harden recorded his 43rd double-double and got lots of help.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon combined for eight 3-pointers. Patrick Beverly added 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Clint Capela had 17 points and nine boards, his eighth straight game in double figures. Veteran Nene had 13 points in the first half.

The Hornets could get a much-needed reinforcement for the game. Center Cody Zeller has missed the past seven games because of a quad contusion. But he is listed as questionable.