(SportsNetwork.com) - The Houston Rockets begin a crucial two-game road trip on Monday when they visit Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take on the Indiana Pacers.
The Rockets had a three-game winning streak snapped last time out. This is a critical time of the season as teams are battling for playoff positioning and the Rockets are no different. They own the third spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and 1 1/2 games in front of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Houston will play seven of its next nine on the road.
On Saturday, the Rockets fell at home to the Phoenix Suns, 117-102.
Donatas Motiejunas paced Houston with 18 points and Trevor Ariza had 15 and 12 rebounds for the Rockets. Star James Harden struggled shooting, finishing 5- for-19 for 16 points in the setback.
"Beginning of the game, they got a lot of easy opportunities," said Harden. "We couldn't shut their water off."
Phoenix's Eric Bledsoe scored 13 points -- including a layup with less than a second left -- and Harden missed both of his field goals in the second period as the Suns turned it around and led 62-61 at the break.
Phoenix gave itself some breathing room after Alex Len's dunk capped an 11-0 run early in the third. Later in the stanza, Bledsoe scored seven straight points to push the spread to 91-80.
Ariza's trey at 5:32 of the fourth made it a five-point game, but that was Houston's last field goal until Nick Johnson scored in garbage time. Tucker answered Ariza's 3 with one of his own, Markieff Morris hit a jumper on a feed from his brother and the Suns held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
In a bit of good news for the Rockets, Dwight Howard has been upgraded to doubtful for Monday night. It's unlikely he will play, but he's inching closer to a return.
That's a big story in Pacers' camp as well - when can a superstar return from injury. Paul George has been practicing for three weeks and could come back to action this week.
Indiana could use him, or anything, to break out of its current funk. The Pacers have lost five in a row and fell a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
On Saturday, the skid reached five with a 123-111 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
George Hill had 18 points and nine assists to lead a balanced scoring attack for Indiana, losers in five straight games on the heels of a 7-0 stretch. Solomon Hill and Luis Scola added 17 points apiece.
"You can only worry about the next game now," said Hill. "This game is over."
The Pacers used an extended 19-7 run that bridged halftime to tie the score at 70 five minutes into the third. They briefly took the lead moments after that on four straight points from Roy Hibbert, but Brook Lopez scored the period's last three to put Brooklyn back in front, 88-87, after three.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored five during an 8-0 spurt to open the fourth and extend Brooklyn's lead to nine. It was back to one when Joe Johnson and Bogdanovic led a 10-2 run that put the game away.
The Rockets have won two straight over the Pacers, but the Pacers are 4-1 in their last five as the host in this series.