The Houston Rockets may be the NBA's hottest team but to win a season-high sixth straight on Wednesday night, they'll have to again knock off the New Orleans Hornets, who figure to be a more confident squad than the one they defeated last week.
The Rockets' 12 wins since Dec. 12 are tied with the Clippers for the league's most, improving their overall record to 21-14 after starting 9-11. Houston is averaging a league-best 106.2 points per game overall and 115.8 during its five-game streak. The Rockets are also shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range in that stretch.
James Harden continues to lead the way at 26.4 ppg and has scored at least 25 in 13 straight - matching Moses Malone's franchise record - after recording 31 points in a 125-112 win against the Lakers on Tuesday.
"It's just like, 'Oh wow, again? OK,'" said teammate Jeremy Lin, who had 19 points, five assists and four steals against Los Angeles. "How consistent he's been is unbelievable."
Reserve swingman Carlos Delfino has also been a major contributor lately, scoring 19 or more in three of his past five games after averaging 8.1 points in the first 21 contests. He's hit 19 of his last 31 (61.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
"He's instant offense," Lin said. "He just comes in, he doesn't even need to warm up. He'll hit his first 3. It's ridiculous."
Western Conference-worst New Orleans (9-25) has won four of seven following an 11-game losing streak, and is coming off a surprising 95-88 victory over first-place San Antonio on Monday. It was also the Hornets' second in a row after a 99-96 overtime victory against Dallas two days earlier, giving the team its first back-to-back wins since Nov. 2-3.
"I would imagine that there is something building here, but at the same time, it's early still in the season," coach Monty Williams said. "You don't want confidence to become arrogance because if you look at our record, we have no right to be anything else but desperate and play the game."
The Hornets are 3-1 with Eric Gordon, who is averaging 18.3 points since returning from a right knee injury. He scored 24 points against the Spurs including six straight at one point in the fourth.
Gordon also scored 10 fourth-quarter points in his first game back, a 98-95 win against Charlotte on Dec. 29.
"They've got a closer now," said San Antonio's Stephen Jackson. "(Gordon) took the game over and was going to work at the end of the game, doing what he wanted. He closed the game for them, and that was what they were missing - a closer."
Gordon and Anthony Davis (13.7 ppg) both sat out the teams' Jan. 2 meeting as Harden scored a game-high 31 points and Ryan Anderson led New Orleans with 18 points off the bench. Harden posted 30 in a 100-96 win on Nov. 14.
Houston won its third straight in the series with a 104-92 victory at home last Wednesday, but has lost four of five in New Orleans.