SPURS AT ROCKETS, 8 P.M. ET

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  • Rockets leading scorer James Harden (sprained right ankle) will miss his first game of the season at one of the most inconvenient times for Houston, which will host the NBA’s best road team, San Antonio, on Monday. Coach Kevin McHale said Carlos Delfino join the starting five with Harden sidelined. “You’re not going to replace him at all,” McHale said. “The bottom line is we’re without our leading scorer. We’re going to have a lot of points to make up. But we’ve got to worry a lot more, right now, about how we’re going to defend and keep the ball out of the paint.”
  •  Spurs forward DeJuan Blair will return to San Antonio’s starting lineup after missing Saturday’s 132-102 stomping of Charlotte with a sprained left ankle. Boris Diaw, who started in Blair’s absence, will shift back into a reserve role. “[Blair] is ready to go,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He just had that ankle tweak, but he’s fine.”
  • Popovich said he has been pleased with his team’s commitment to ball movement, which has improved from great to exceptional over San Antonio’s last three games. The Spurs (17-4) have averaged 32.7 assists and 118.7 points during this period, recording at least 27 assists in each contest.
  • After digging double-digit holes in the first quarter of their previous three outings, the Rockets (9-10) have set their sights on avoiding another sluggish start against San Antonio. McHale said his players are developing a dangerous habit of approaching the beginning of games in a timid manner, which leaves opponents in a position to take control. “We just got to play harder to start off the game,” McHale said. “It’s not a big secret. We’ve got to play harder. We’ve got to play with more force. We’ve got to play faster. We’ve got to think about maybe stopping somebody. That would help us a little bit.”

Matt Miller

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