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Rockets look to keep rolling against Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- After finishing one of the most dominant Novembers in NBA history, the Houston Rockets will try to pick up where they left off when they play the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday evening.
The Rockets went 12-1 in November and outscored their opponents by an average of 16.769 points, the largest margin of victory for the month since the Boston Celtics won by an average of 16.833 points in 1963.
"We're winning by big margins, but we're not playing great," Houston forward P.J. Tucker told the Houston Chronicle. "We have to challenge ourselves to get better."
There should be added motivation for the Rockets because coach Mike D'Antoni and a number of Houston players have past ties to Los Angeles.
D'Antoni coached the Lakers for two seasons, including their last trip to the postseason in 2013.
Rockets guard James Harden, who leads the NBA at 31.5 points and 9.8 assists, grew up and attended high school in the Los Angeles area, as did fellow starter Trevor Ariza, who helped the Lakers to their last NBA title in 2009.
Starting point guard Chris Paul spent the past six seasons playing home games at Staples Center with the Los Angeles Clippers, and second-leading scorer Eric Gordon (19.2) played his first three NBA seasons with the Clippers before he was traded for Paul.
D'Antoni said Houston's ties to the Lakers and the city shouldn't play a role in the team's performance.
"We have a good basketball team. I don't care where we play," D'Antoni said. "For these guys, veterans, it makes no difference. We just have to make sure we're ready to play mentally, physically. It's my job to get them there and then their job is to be professional, ready to go. We're in a good spot right now. We're just trying to stay there."
The Lakers are in a 15-game stretch in which they play the top two teams in the Western Conference, the Rockets and Golden State Warriors, three times each.
They played well in their first meeting of the season against the Warriors on Wednesday, losing 120-115 in overtime after missing a game-winning shot at the end of regulation.
They overcame a 12-point deficit to take a four-point halftime lead Saturday night at the Denver Nuggets, but were outscored 15-0 over the final 3:43 of the 115-100 loss.
"The end of the fourth is about as bad as we could have played," Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
Additionally, Lakers starting point guard Lonzo Ball experienced tightness in both calves and was limping noticeably afterward. He will be re-evaluated Sunday and his availability against the Rockets will be determined then.
Harden fell one point short of becoming the third player in NBA history to average 35 points and 10 assists for a month. He's averaging 23.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 28 career games against the Lakers.
Harden had 34 points and a career-high 17 assists in a 120-114 loss to the Lakers in the season opener last year, becoming the second player in NBA history to record at least 30 points and 15 assists in an opener.
Updated December 3, 2017