NBA Basketball

Hawks attempt to again "slow" Rockets' Harden

Atlanta is one of the few teams that has had limited success in "slowing" Houston's James Harden.

Harden, who is averaging 35.9 points, has averaged only 25 points in his last three contests with the Hawks and averages 23.4 points in 16 career games against Atlanta. But Houston, which visits Atlanta on Tuesday night, has won three straight games against the Hawks and seeks to sweep the season series for the second consecutive year.

The Rockets (42-27) are chasing Denver for second place in the Western Conference, while trying to hold off Portland and Oklahoma City. Houston has won two in a row, including Sunday's 117-102 win over Minnesota. Houston has been one of the hottest teams in the league with wins in 11 of their last 12.

Harden comes into the game a little dinged up. He strained his neck after a fall on Friday in a victory over the Phoenix Suns. He still played 31 minutes and had 20 points and 10 assists against Minnesota.

Guard Chris Paul came up big for the Rockets on Sunday with 25 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers, and 10 assists. Paul seemed fresher after sitting out Friday's game as a scheduled rest day.

"I didn't even think about it," Paul said. "For me, it's just about making sure things are right with my body."

Paul is on pace to average 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds in fewer than 33 minutes in three of four seasons, a feat no other player has accomplished.

Atlanta will need to limit Houston's success on 3-pointers. The Rockets have made at least 20 treys in 13 consecutive games; they had 21 on Sunday. Houston is quick to fire away, having attempted 40 or more in an NBA-record 53 games. Atlanta is tied for 21st in the NBA in 3-point defense by allowing 36 percent.

The Hawks must avoid getting too far behind in the first half. It happened twice last weekend against Boston and Orlando and it led to the team dropping both ends of a back-to-back. They were able to tie the Boston game after trailing by 25 and got as close as five points against the Magic after trailing by 14.

"I think that's the reason our record (24-47) is the way it is," Atlanta rookie point guard Trae Young said. "It could easily be flipped. We dig ourselves in holes and at the end of the game we're still in the game. We find a way to crawl back, but it takes so much energy out of us, we don't have enough to finish it out."

The Hawks averaged 123.1 points in their first 12 games since the All-Star Game, but managed only 91 on Sunday, their lowest since a 106-91 loss to New York on Feb. 14. The issues were twofold:

Atlanta missed its first 11 3-point shots and played without leading scorer and rebounder John Collins for most of the game. Collins scored just 10 points, 9.9 below his season average, and played only 20 minutes because of foul trouble and eventually fouling out for the first time.

Houston will be playing the first of back-to-back road games. The Rockets have been a strong road team, winning five straight and nine of their last 12 away from the Toyota Center.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 18, 2019

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