Rockets enter battle with Hawks minus Harden

( - The Houston Rockets face a tough task Tuesday when they travel to Philips Arena to tangle with the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks.

The task is even tougher now that MVP candidate and NBA scoring leader James Harden will be suspended for the game after kicking LeBron James in the groin on Sunday.

The incident occurred during the third quarter of Houston's 105-103 overtime win. Harden was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for his actions, but the league upgraded it to a Flagrant 2 upon a review to bring about the suspension.

The Rockets did prevail against James and company and they've won five straight, all at home. Houston is in the midst of a two-game road losing streak.

Harden was sensational against the Cavs with 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Terrence Jones posted 19 points with seven rebounds and Donatas Motiejunas added 16 points for the Rockets.

Patrick Beverley buried a 3-pointer before Josh Smith canned two free throws to give the Rockets a 104-100 lead with 2:21 left in overtime. James hit a wide open trey with under a minute left, then he squandered an opportunity to possibly win the game late.

James was fouled by Smith with 4.2 seconds left, but the four-time MVP missed both free throws and Harden made 1-of-2 at the other end with under a second on the clock to account for the final margin.

"We're growing as a team," said Harden. "Lately we've been believing in each other. Games like this we find a way to win."

The Hawks own the NBA's second-longest current win streak with a four-game run. They're 9 1/2 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for conference supremacy and, with 23 games remaining, it's getting close to magic number time for the Hawks and a playoff berth.

Two of Atlanta's four straight came at home and it has a huge test coming on Friday when James and the Cavs venture to Georgia.

Last time out, the Hawks outlasted the Miami Heat, 93-91, in South Beach.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points and Dennis Schroder added 16 with 10 assists to lead an under-manned Hawks team on Saturday.

Kent Bazemore and John Jenkins tallied 15 and 12 points, respectively, for an Atlanta squad playing without regulars Al Horford (personal), Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic -- the last three all getting the night off on the second of a back-to-back.

"The guys came to play tonight," Millsap said of Atlanta's deep bench. "It's expected for them to do that."

The Hawks nearly squandered an 18-point lead but pulled away for their fourth straight victory. Though they committed 20 turnovers, they forced 23 and limited Miami to 39.5 percent shooting.

The outcome was still in doubt until Millsap connected from behind the arc to give Atlanta an 84-74 cushion, and the visitors held on over the final four minutes.

The Hawks beat the Rockets by seven in Houston on Dec. 20 and have won two straight, which snapped six-game series losing streak. The teams have split the last six meetings in Atlanta.