|Rockets' Paul bearing responsibility to produce vs. Bucks|
HOUSTON -- What represented the first legitimate obstacle for the Houston Rockets since guard Chris Paul returned from his 14-game injury hiatus last month proved to be little more than a speed bump on Friday night.
Facing a stretch of two to three weeks without reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute, sidelined by a dislocated right shoulder, the Rockets (23-4) took their first step in divvying up his 25 minutes per game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Trevor Ariza tied a season high with 42 minutes in a 124-109 victory. Houston, which will host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at Toyota Center, extended its winning streak to 12 games.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni toyed with a three-guard lineup featuring Eric Gordon, James Harden and Chris Paul. He intimated that P.J. Tucker could get more minutes against the Bucks after Tucker logged only 25 against the Spurs.
Options abound for the Rockets, whose defense is sure to suffer without Mbah a Moute, although it was strong in the early going on Friday night.
"It's something we want to look at anyway, because there will be a lot of games we finish with those three guys on the floor," D'Antoni said of the three-guard set. "We have to take advantage of the next two weeks to look at it.
"I always feel good when those guys are on the floor. When you've got Eric, James and Chris, it's hard for it to go bad."
Even without Mbah a Moute, D'Antoni didn't put a heavy workload on Gordon (27 minutes), Harden (33) or Paul (32).
The wire-to-wire victory helped, particularly with the Rockets leading by as many as 28 points midway through the second quarter. But one game into the experiment, only Ariza extended himself, and according to D'Antoni, Ariza likes the labor.
"He never gets tired," D'Antoni said. "He just looks at me and goes, 'I'm fine, Coach.'"
The Bucks (15-12) fell to the Chicago Bulls 115-108 at home on Friday night and dropped consecutive games for the first time since losing to the Mavericks and Wizards in late November.
Despite having won six of seven games before those back-to-back losses, the Bucks continues to scuffle defensively, having allowed at least 100 points in seven consecutive games.
Milwaukee is 28th in the NBA with a 110.5 defensive rating in December.
"We got to do a better job guarding defensively and just playing harder," Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "Because up to this point that's what we do well, and right now we're going away from it."
In their first season under coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks fashioned a reputation as a defensive-minded team. But since that 2014-15 campaign, Milwaukee has ranked in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency, and the inability to improve in that aspect continues to undermine the progress the Bucks have made adding pieces around Antetokounmpo.
"If you don't get stops, there is no way to turn it around, no matter how many points we score," Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "Defensively we didn't play as a unit."