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  • James Harden and the Rockets (2-3) look to break out of an offensive slump and snap a three-game losing streak Saturday against winless Detroit (0-6), but they’ll have to do it without their coach. Kevin McHale has taken a leave of absence from the team to attend to a personal matter in Minnesota. Assistant coach Kelvin Sampson will be in charge until McHale returns. “About 1:20, 1:25 p.m., I got a call from [McHale], and he was very emotional,” Sampson said. “Our [players] have great love and respect for Kevin, and he’s a family member. … This certainly can be a catalyst for us to come together.”
  • Harden has connected on only nine of 33 shots and committed 11 turnovers in his last two outings, but he is far from the only culprit for Houston’s inability to score more than 87 points or make more than 41 percent of their shot attempts in three consecutive games. “It’s very difficult to win a game in the NBA,” Sampson said. “We’re having to beat us and the other team. That’s the main focus right now is eliminating some mistakes, taking advantage of some early break opportunities, sharing the ball, playing more as a team. I expect to see improvements in those areas.”
  • As bad as the last week may have seemed for the Rockets, no NBA club is struggling more than the Pistons. Detroit’s 0-6 start to the season is its worst since it suffered a seven-game losing streak to begin the 1979-80 campaign. Win-loss record aside, coach Lawrence Frank knows his squad has to clamp down defensively after allowing at least 105 points in five of six contests. “We have to continue to take that challenge individually when we’re guarding the ball,” Frank said. “Off the ball, you can control your position. … I thought we made progress [defensively] last night. … Let’s see what last night was, and let’s see if there’s any transfer and carry-over tonight.”
  • A night after putting centers Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe on the court together for the first time, Frank said he plans to play the Pistons’ young twin towers together against Houston. Frank is hopeful that the pair can improve Detroit’s rebounding and interior defense, which Harden shredded for 37 points and 12 assists in the Rockets’ 105-96 victory Oct. 31 in Auburn Hills, Mich. “I think they fit together,” Frank said. “I like Andre’s energy. I like the fact that he gives us some rim protection. … The longer stretches they can play, the better that will be.”

Matt Miller

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