Rockets put perfect season on the line vs. Spurs

( - The Houston Rockets will put their perfect record on the line Thursday night in their stiffest test to date, a home battle with the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets can become the league's first 6-0 team with a victory on Thursday. The Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors are also perfect in the early part of this campaign.

Houston is supremely confident and should be against the Spurs. The Rockets swept the season series in 2013-14 and have won seven of the last nine at home versus the defending champs.

The Rockets reached 5-0 in their toughest challenge before Thursday, toppling the previously undefeated Miami Heat, 108-91, in South Beach on Tuesday night.

James Harden was a rebound shy of a triple-double, tallying 25 points and 10 assists for the Rockets.

"We showed tremendous confidence, especially in the fourth quarter," said Harden. "We got stops when we needed to."

Dwight Howard posted 26 points and 10 boards and Trevor Ariza nailed five 3- pointers and netted 19 points for Houston, which is off to its first 5-0 start since opening 6-0 during the 1996-97 season.

Patrick Beverley returned from a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury and scored 15 points.

The Rockets started the season against relative NBA lightweights, but the level rose with the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions. It gets even higher versus the NBA champions.

"I'm happy with our progress, but we're not satisfied," Howard said after the Miami victory. "We've got a tough game with San Antonio. We have to be ready for our next opponent."

The Spurs were well-rested for their home tilt with the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. San Antonio had only played twice early in the campaign and it showed some rust, but escaped with a 94-92 win.

"You can make the argument on both sides, was there rust there, or is it good to get rest?" opined Duncan. "Luckily, we got the win and we'll build on that."

With the score tied with 13.6 seconds remaining, Manu Ginobili drove the lane and kicked to the corner, but was fouled with 3.8 ticks on the clock. He buried a pair of free throws, then Boris Diaw blocked a last-second heave to allow the Spurs to survive.

"We need to be sharper, execute better, and today we just didn't," said Ginobili.

Ginobili scored seven of his 12 points on Wednesday at the foul line. Duncan and Tony Parker each finished with 17 points, with the former grabbing 13 rebounds with six blocks, four assists and three steals. Kawhi Leonard and Diaw each scored 11 points in the win.

Tiago Splitter returned from a calf injury, then left because he felt tightness in the area. His availability for Thursday night is undetermined.