Road-weary Rockets return home to face Kings

HOUSTON -- Two nights after becoming the first player in league history to post a second 50-point triple-double in one season, Rockets guard James Harden appeared to be running in mud, seemingly the victim of the finale of Houston's third five-game road trip this season.

The Rockets (35-16) closed a 120-101 loss at Indiana on Sunday having played more games than any Western Conference team this season. Next up is a Tuesday night game against the Sacramento Kings (19-29) at Toyota Center, the opener of a four-game homestand.

After posting winning records in each of their first two five-game roadies this season, including a 4-1 mark during the trip that bridged November and December, Houston finished 2-3 on its swing through Memphis, Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia while looking flat throughout against the Pacers. The Rockets fell to 18-11 on the road.

"We looked like a tired team, played like a tired team, and now we've got to get home and recover," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said.

"We've been a little short-handed, and it finally caught up with Trevor (Ariza) and caught up with James. It'll be that way, and we're going to turn the page on this one and get back home and try to take care of business there."

Harden and Ariza are ranked first and third, respectively, in minutes played in the NBA with 1,863 and 1,762. The good news for Houston is that its schedule finally eases up.

The Rockets will contest just 12 of their final 31 games on the road and have just one road trip of longer than two games remaining: a three-game swing through Phoenix, Golden State and Portland starting March 30. That roadie will follow another four-game homestand all against Western Conference opponents.

"We've played the most road games so far in the league," Harden said. "We'll get back home, get some rest, prepare our minds, and go out there and play well the next game."

In the Kings, the Rockets will host a team that can't seem to find its footing. Sacramento had won three of four before falling 122-119 to the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night in the makeup of a game postponed from Nov. 30.

The Kings clawed to within three games of .500 with a home win over the 76ers on Dec. 26 before proceeding to lose 10 of 12 games. Then came road victories over the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets, and with All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins excelling, the hope was that Sacramento could maintain its winning ways.

Cousins recorded his ninth consecutive double-digit rebound game on Monday night, finishing with 46 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. He is averaging 30.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the nine-game stretch. Yet despite his singular brilliance, the Kings continue to spin their rickety wheels.

"We have to win some games nobody expects us to, like the one in Cleveland," Kings forward Anthony Tolliver told the Sacramento Bee. "That was a big one, and hopefully we can get another one in Houston. We definitely have to do better at closing out games and being smart to finish out games and get W's."