MILWAUKEE — There was nothing pretty about Houston’s 101-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but the surging Rockets — winners of five in a row — will take it.
The Rockets could not put the Bucks away, giving up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter before center Dwight Howard finally put the game out of reach by sinking three of four free-throws in the final seconds.
“We didn’t do it like we wanted to,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who finished with 22 points. “I think we were up 10 or eight, I turned the ball over and they scored. There were a couple of other things but we held our composure, got some shots when we needed to and knocked down shots.”
In all, four Rockets scored in double figures. Point guard Jeremy Lin had 18 and guard Patrick Beverly finished with 15.
Howard led the way for Houston, finishing with a game-high 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds.
“Dwight had another good efficient game tonight,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
Houston matched a season-high with five straight victories and improved to 15-3 against Eastern Conference teams this season by shooting 49 percent from the field and making 8 of 25 3-pointers and were tough on the defensive end, holding Milwaukee to 44.4 percent shooting and turning 18 Bucks turnovers into 22 points.
“That’s what we do,” Harden said. “Every single game we try to create opportunities with our defense. We rely on our defense and Dwight (Howard) protecting the paint.”
Undermanned, the Bucks — owners of the league’s worst record at 9-41 — made things difficult for Houston, 8-2 in its last 10 games and three games behind Southwest Division leader San Antonio.
Down 12 heading into the fourth quarter, Milwaukee stayed within striking distance and made it a one-possession ballgame when forward Khris Middleton hit three free throws with 46.6 seconds left.
Point guard Nate Wolters wound up with the rebound after Lin missed a jumper from the lane with 21.2 seconds left, but point guard Brandon Knight’s layup rolled out with 10.1 left.
“We kept chipping away in the fourth quarter but we had two costly turnovers down at around the four minute mark,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Yet, we still had an opportunity … we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Knight hit 10 of his 20 from the field and made 2 of 3 3-pointers to lead Milwaukee with 23 points while Middleton scored 20, center John Henson had 14 and center Zaza Pachulia 12.
Middleton scored 20, center John Henson had 14 and center Zaza Pachulia 12 but rookie forward Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled, missing all eight of his shots and finishing with just one point (a fourth-quarter free throw).
Starting alongside Knight, Wolters set career highs with 19 points and tied a career high with seven rebounds.
“He really mixed things up well,” Drew said. “He took his shots when they were there, he drove the ball to the basket. His in-between game was working. I thought he played a very solid game.”
Milwaukee hoped to get a second straight solid effort from center Larry Sanders, who scored a season-high 25 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a 110-100 loss Friday night at Denver. But after catching a Harden elbow to the eye, Sanders left the game with 7:37 remaining and didn’t return due to blurred vision.
Sanders’ early exit left Milwaukee with just eight available players.
NOTES: C Omar Asik played 11 minutes after missing the last 31 games with a leg injury. He had five rebounds and two assists while not taking a shot. … Milwaukee had just nine available players to start the game as F Ersan Ilyasova and PG Luke Ridnour battled back troubles and C Epke Udoh and F Caron Butler were out with sprained ankles. … Bucks G O.J. Mayo has been working out but has yet to practice. Mayo has not played since Jan. 25 because of the flu but said he hopes to return before the All-Star break. … The Rockets began the day fifth in the NBA, shooting 47.3 percent per game, but are 163-for-311 (52.4 percent) over their last four games.
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