Hornets next to challenge versatile Rockets (Dec 13, 2017)

HOUSTON — It was yet another showcase of the Rockets’ enviable offensive weaponry, with Houston eclipsing the 120-point plateau for the sixth time this season despite a quiet night from sharpshooter Ryan Anderson and an 0-fer shooting performance from Luc Mbah a Moute.

But the Rockets’ 130-123 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night at Toyota Center was as much about what their small-ball lineup provided defensively as it was about their usual offensive exploits.

Houston (21-4), which will host the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, went small down the stretch for a second consecutive game, and the Rockets found the intensity it sought after its opponent torched its defense over the opening three periods.

With undersized power forward P.J. Tucker manning center, the Rockets did a superior job of getting into the Pelicans defensively. Subsequently, New Orleans produced just 20 points in the fourth quarter after averaging 34.3 through the third quarter.

Houston managed a similar defensive turnaround at Portland two nights earlier, limiting the Trail Blazers to 19 fourth-quarter points in a 124-117 come-from-behind victory at Moda Center.

“With a small lineup, we can do that,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Other times we need bigger lineups in there, and that’s cool. But (Monday) was another night (where going small worked). That’s a little bit out of the Golden State playbook, where they throw guys out there and switch and the defense becomes really tough.”

Charlotte (10-16) answered a desperate call with a 116-103 victory in Oklahoma City on Monday, just its second road win. The Hornets have been hamstrung by injuries yet mustered the fight necessary to win.

The Hornets snapped a three-game skid and a stretch of seven losses in eight games. They did so via remarkable offensive balance, with six players reaching double figures in points; second-year guard Treveon Graham produced 12 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

That scoring depth, and 53.1 percent shooting while making 13 of 25 3-pointers, represented a needed first step for the Hornets offensively. Charlotte has grown overly reliant upon the scoring prowess of dynamic guard Kemba Walker, whose individual exploits haven’t prevented Charlotte from ranking 20th in offensive rating (103.3) while also sitting in the bottom 10 in field-goal percentage (27th) and effective field-goal percentage (29th).

Charlotte is 24th in 3-pointers made (nine) and attempted (25.3) per game, thus its shooting against the defensive-minded Thunder offered some promise. What the Hornets need is more of the same, with Walker getting the support he surely deserves.

“I think (Monday night) gave us somewhat of a vision of how we can be,” Walker said. “And now we’ve just got to be consistent. Now we’ve got to go to Houston, and they’re playing as well as anyone in our league at this point. But we’ve got to go in there with the same mindset, play hard, and do what we can to try to go win a game.”

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