By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- Even when the Houston Rockets aren't hitting 3-pointers, they can still find ways to put the ball in the basket and come out on top.
Getting an early lead over the slow-starting Milwaukee Bucks could help them win Friday night when they begin a road-heavy portion of the schedule.
Led by James Harden and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are second in the league in 3s per game (9.7) and attempts (27.2). However, they also rank second in points in the paint with 46.8 per game.
Houston (18-14) matched a season low with five 3s - in 24 attempts - but defeated New Orleans 104-92 on Wednesday. The Rockets outscored the Hornets 60-28 in the paint - Harden scored 16 of those - en route to their seventh win in nine games.
"I think that shows the maturity that we're growing and that we're getting better," said Harden, who scored 31. "Sometimes our offense isn't on point, but we're finding ways to score."
Harden certainly has, reaching 20 points in a career-high 14 consecutive games - he's averaged 29.5 in that span. Parsons, meanwhile, hasn't hit a 3-pointer in three straight games after making one in 27 of his first 28 contests.
Houston, among the league's best with 105.8 points per game, might have to rely more on post play as it opens a stretch of nine of 11 away from home.
The Bucks (16-14) are among the league leaders in fewest 3s allowed at 5.7 per game, but they gave up nine in 17 attempts in Wednesday's 117-110 home loss to San Antonio.
A bigger concern for coach Scott Skiles' team may be its recent sluggish starts. Milwaukee surrendered a season-high 69 first-half points and trailed by 17 at the break against the Spurs after falling behind 13-0 in Sunday's 96-94 loss at Detroit.
"We can't start off the game (against Houston) the way we did against San Antonio," said Brandon Jennings, averaging 27.0 points in the last three home games after scoring 31 on Wednesday. "... Once (Western Conference teams) get on the run, they kind of bury you."
Houston is scoring an NBA-best 18.7 points per game on the break, while the Bucks are yielding the second-most fast-break points at 15.6.
The Rockets' inside game also could be a big test. Center Omer Asik, among the league leaders with 11.7 boards per game, scored a career high-tying 21 points Wednesday. Patrick Patterson had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in his third game back from a foot injury that cost him seven games.
"We're glad to have him back and hopefully it continues," Parsons said.
The Bucks' frontline could benefit from more production by rookie John Henson, who had a season-high 20 points with nine rebounds Wednesday. The former North Carolina star totaled 10 points over Milwaukee's previous 14 games and didn't even play in five of them.
"It was a good step forward for him against a good team," Skiles said.
Bucks leading scorer Monta Ellis will get his first look at the Rockets since being acquired from Golden State in March. He's averaging 31.7 points in his last five games versus Houston.
These teams last met Jan. 25, when Jennings made four 3s and scored 20 in a 105-99 win at Houston. Jennings enters Friday having hit a 3-pointer in 18 consecutive games, the longest stretch by a Buck since current Rocket Carlos Delfino's run of 26 straight Feb. 5-April 6, 2010.
Delfino, who started 53 games for Milwaukee in 2011-12, set season highs with 22 points and six 3s in Monday's win over Atlanta but was held to two points Wednesday.
Updated January 3, 2013