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Rockets have to go small to overcome adversity and Heat

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Rockets top Heat, snap three-game skid (1:19)

James Harden scores 26 points to lead the Rockets past the Heat 115-102. (1:19)

HOUSTON -- With the Houston Rockets it's always something. Injuries, poor production, a firing, fines, suspensions and failing to reach expectations have hampered this team this season.

Tuesday night the Rockets had to battle playing without two centers, including starter Dwight Howard, to somehow defeat a pretty good team that had won its past four games. The Rockets beat the Miami Heat, 115-102, at the Toyota Center ending a three-game losing streak and getting above the .500 mark, yet again.

At the beginning of the day, the league announced Howard was sent home for a game because he lost his composure by pushing the arm of a referee in a loss to Washington on Sunday. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 for ripping the officials afterward.

Tuesday morning, Patrick Beverley and James Harden agreed in separate media briefings the Rockets regularly seemed to be dealing with some sort of drama.

By Tuesday night, the Rockets thrived despite the possibility of dropping below .500 looming.

Defense, good ball movement and a grittiness prevented a fourth straight loss.

"When your back is against the wall, you never know how strong you are until you got to get to that point," Beverley said. "We lost three in a row and we definitely didn't want to lose four. Two of our centers were out tonight and we had to respond well. Everybody got a chance to play and everyone contributed and it was fun out there."

With Clint Capela also out, Bickerstaff started Josh Smith at center for the first time since his days in Atlanta and Smith produced an efficient season-high 19 points.

Marcus Thornton came off the bench and scored 18 points, and Harden tied his career high with 14 assists to go along with 26 points. Harden had only three turnovers, which has been his average over the last 10 games.

The Rockets moved the ball, evident by their 30 assists, and the defensive effort pushed the Heat to shoot 35.3 percent from 3-point range, forcing Chris Bosh to miss 8 of 11 shots and Dwyane Wade to misfire on 12 of 18 attempts. After giving up 31 points in the opening quarter, the Rockets didn't give up more than 25 in any of the remaining three. The Rockets held the Heat to only 22 fourth-quarter points as the visitors shot 6-for-19 to close the game.

It was a well-balanced effort, something we've seen from the group during the season, yet, it hasn't produced enough results.

"They brought the necessary disposition," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Rockets. "They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half (12). They were aggressive and attacking us off the dribble and then, the floodgates opened with the 3s, but it started with the aggressiveness before that."

Moving forward, the Rockets will need Capela and Howard to protect the paint, and GM Daryl Morey might have to find a defensive power forward in a trade. Capela is really a center playing power forward and Bickerstaff likes to go small by using Corey Brewer at small forward and moving Trevor Ariza, a natural small forward, to power forward. So the real power forward on this team, Terrence Jones, comes off the bench and he finished with a nice 11-point, seven-rebound outing. But he has scored in double figures only twice the last six games and has seen his minutes decrease with the arrival of Smith. Jones played 29 minutes, the most he has logged since the 32 he picked up Jan. 22 against Milwaukee, which incidentally was one of his best game of the season.

Consistency is something the Rockets need not only from Smith but a bunch of people. Harden is the most consistent player on the offensive end for the Rockets. He made 10 of 19 shots Tuesday night, and one of his best passes was a no-look, drawing two defenders away, to Jones leading to a dunk.

Harden is such a wonderful passer -- a willing passer at that -- but when his teammates struggle with their shots, the ball sticks to him and he tries to do more.

Tuesday night, playing with a super-small lineup, the Rockets overcame a few things to win with strong performances.

"I guess you can say we respond against adversity," Brewer said. "When things are going bad, we step up to the plate and [Tuesday] we did a good job."