PHILADELPHIA - The Houston Rockets routed the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers 104-93 to improve to 4-0 in the fledgling National Basketball Association season, with their toughest test to date looming at Miami this morning (Singapore time).
James Harden made just seven field goals but hit 17 of 18 free throws to finish with 35 points for the Rockets, adding nine rebounds and five assists for a Houston team off to their first 4-0 start since they won six straight to launch the 1996-97 campaign.
Trevor Ariza added 24 points and Dwight Howard chipped in 11 points with 14 rebounds and four blocks for the Rockets, who made seven three-pointers in the first quarter to take a 32-19 lead after one period and used another barrage of long-range shots - including two from Isaiah Canaan - to put the game away in the fourth.
Monday's victory over the winless 76ers, who fell to 0-4, was no surprise.
The Rockets will face a tougher test when they visit the Heat, who are off to a 3-0 start despite the departure of superstar LeBron James for Cleveland after four seasons with Miami.
On Friday (Singapore time), the Rockets face another searching examination when they host the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's defending champions.
And they won't be able to get away with the kind of mistakes they made against Philadelphia, notably 22 turnovers.
"Give our guys credit - in what was a ragtag game for us, they found a way to get a win," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
They'll have to do better in Miami, where Chris Bosh, often overshadowed by James and Dwyane Wade in his first four seasons with the Heat, has emerged as a leader.
Bosh earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours for the first week of the season, with an average of 25.7 points a game and 11.3 rebounds per contest while handing out four assists a game.
"It's just time," he told reporters of his emergence after finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds against Toronto on Sunday.
"I knew I couldn't settle into that same position I've been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple jumpers."
Against the Rockets, the Heat will be trying to maintain their status as the only unbeaten team left in the Eastern Conference.