Game Preview

HOUSTON -- While one championship contender executed a dramatic roster upheaval Thursday, the red-hot Rockets stood pat at the NBA trading deadline with an eye on potentially bolstering their roster after a handful of veterans are sure to secure buyouts of their contracts.

As the Cleveland Cavaliers shipped out six players and made four personnel additions in an attempt to salvage their wayward season, Houston (40-13) went about the business of preparing for the first of three final home games prior to the All-Star break, with the Denver Nuggets paying a visit to Toyota Center on Friday night.

Houston has won six consecutive games and 13 of 15 since suffering back-to-back losses in early January to the Warriors and Pistons.

Given their exceptional play of late and throughout the season, the Rockets appear to require little more than a roster tweak, if that. Veteran swingman Joe Johnson, shipped to Sacramento as part of the three-team trade that landed Rodney Hood and George Hill in Cleveland, is a buyout candidate and a probable target of title hopefuls, with the Rockets included in that mix.

The Rockets' needs are few. Despite playing without starting forward Trevor Ariza, Houston completed a 4-0 road trip Wednesday with a 109-101 victory at Miami. The Rockets were not only victorious on the second night of a back-to-back, they triumphed with starting forward Ryan Anderson (ankle) and reserve guard Eric Gordon (back) on the bench alongside Ariza.

All-Star guard James Harden performed brilliantly in both ends of the back-to-back, posting 36 points, five assists and four rebounds at Brooklyn on Tuesday before adding 41 points, six assists, four boards and three steals against the Heat. Harden, named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, remains central to the Rockets' ability to overcome injury adversity.

"Huge win for us," Harden said. "Two starters out, Eric was out, we could have easily just chalked it up but we haven't done that all year. This shows us that we're getting better. We have a long way to go, obviously, but we're taking the right steps in the right direction."

The Nuggets (29-25), sixth in the Western Conference, executed a trade Thursday, securing stability at the lead guard spot for their second unit by acquiring veteran Devin Harris from the Mavericks. As part of a three-team trade that also included the Knicks, Denver sent guard Emmanuel Mudiay to New York, ending the frustrating wait for Mudiay to fulfill his potential.

Mudiay, drafted seventh overall in 2015, started 66 of 68 games as a rookie before coming off the bench in 14 of 55 games last season. He was relegated to reserve status this campaign, averaging 8.5 points and 2.9 assists in 17.9 minutes over 42 games. The Nuggets handed control of their offense to second-year combo guard Jamal Murray, but with Mudiay playing inconsistently, they sought a steady hand in striving to maintain their tenuous playoff position.

The Nuggets, winners of three straight and six of eight, last qualified for the postseason in 2012-13.

"We can't thank Emmanuel enough for his time in Denver," Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. "Emmanuel has been nothing but a complete professional both on and off the court and has done so much to help improve our organization and the city of Denver. New York is not just getting a good basketball player but a fantastic individual and we wish him the best moving forward."

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