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Josh Smith gives Rockets look of a winner against Bucks

HOUSTON -- It was like last season for the Houston Rockets in a 102-98 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

The Rockets played like the old Rockets, a team that passed the ball with a level of consistency, attacked the boards and didn't mind being short-handed for a spell. And oh yeah, the Rockets' players were smiling.

This is what happens when you have a big man who can distribute, such as Josh Smith, who had six assists in his first game back with the team following this week's trade with the Clippers. When you have willing passers, something else happens -- guys make shots, especially the best player on this team, James Harden. He scored 30 points on an efficient 15 shots, and had eight assists because when his teammates are making buckets, he becomes more of a willing passer.

The Rockets played with passion Friday night, and when that occurs they're very good.

"It feels good actually," Harden said. "Josh is very talented, but he's skilled and he's smart enough to know in the pick-and-roll he gets hit in the pocket, corner 3s are open. He found Trevor [Ariza], different guys for several times. He did the things that don't show up on the stat sheet but help teams win."

With the ball moving around, the Rockets took a season-high 44 3-point attempts, making 34.1 percent. It was the first time this group had attempted 40 or more 3s in a game all season, after breaking the NBA record for 3-point attempts last season. The Rockets attempted at least 40 3-pointers 12 times last season.

When you take a huge number of 3s, the ball gets touched a lot and players are confident in their ability to hit shots, which happened often last season.

"It felt good [Friday], Josh is going to bring a lot to us," Corey Brewer said. "Just like last year in our system, Josh is great just how he moves the ball, the way he rebounds, he's just a good teammate. Friday showed how when we're moving the ball and how we're playing together is good for us."

In ending this two-game losing streak, the Rockets might have solved some of their issues by bringing Smith back to the team.

"I'm more familiar with these core guys that are here and being able to talk to them and give my insight on the game when they allow me to do," Smith said. "It keeps me engaged in the game."

Last season, Smith was part of a Rockets team that reached the conference finals and raised the expectations in Houston.

We all know what happened next, so with Smith returning, maybe another run will come from this group. Jason Terry noted Friday morning that there is a lot of basketball to be played, and while that's correct, the Rockets have to produce on the court.

Adding Smith brings a big man who can pass, shoot from the outside (though he missed nine of 10 shots Friday), defend the rim and bring a high basketball IQ to the game.

When you have those attributes, it allows other players to produce. There was Ariza scoring 19 points and leading the team with a plus-15. Terrence Jones came off the bench to score 14 points and snag eight rebounds.

As a team, against a bigger opponent, the Rockets had a season-high 10 blocked shots. And even without three regulars out because of injuries, the Rockets did the little things, as Brewer noted, such as boxing out and making the extra pass to get open looks.

Yes, just like last season.

"One of the things you'll begin to see as we go forward, the more involved everyone is, the more energy we have on the defensive end of the floor," interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "We've got multiple playmakers on the floor. Everyone seems to touch it more, and they're willing to get off of it and move it. When the ball moves like that, we're hard to guard because we have so many weapons offensively."