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Rockets prep for playoffs in visit to Big Easy

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Houston Rockets will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but before that, they will close out the regular season Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center to face the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Rockets clinched the fourth seed in Monday's 104-98 home victory over the San Antonio Spurs. That gave Houston a season-sweep of the vaunted Spurs and also home-court over the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

"We fought hard for it. It took a little longer than I hoped but we knew we had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after Monday's win. "I'm glad we didn't have to wait until Wednesday to try and get it."

How much time Houston's starters see remains unclear but they were magnificent on Monday.

Chandler Parsons tallied 21 points to lead a balanced scoring attack for the Rockets. Dwight Howard added 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting while pulling down 17 rebounds.

Terrence Jones finished with 20 points and 11 boards in the win, with James Harden netting 16 points along with seven assists despite a 4-of-16 performance from the field. Patrick Beverley, Houston's fifth starter, added 12 points.

The Pelicans snapped an eight-game losing streak on Monday with an unexpected home win over the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder, who were still battling for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

New Orleans played without six of its top seven scorers this season, but that one who played made a mighty difference.

Tyreke Evans stuffed the stat sheet, pouring in 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Pelicans' surprising 101-89 win over the Thunder. Evans shot 14-of-26 from the field and 12-of-16 from the free-throw line for New Orleans.

"We've been short-handed all year," Evans said. "I wasn't supposed to play tonight. My knee was bothering me, but I knew we needed a win bad. Coach talked about finishing the season strong. That's what we wanted to do tonight. It was a team effort."

Luke Babbitt donated 12 points off the bench, while Darius Miller and Alexis Ajinca had 10 points.

Anthony Davis (back spasms) and Eric Gordon (knee tendinitis) were inactive and will not play the rest of the season for New Orleans, while Brian Roberts is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith had already been ruled out for the season.

The Rockets have won all three meetings this season with the Pelicans and two straight as the visitor in this series. Houston is just 4-7 in its last 11 playing in the Big Easy.

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