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Sources: Rockets aggressively pursuing deals to use trade exception

Rival executives say that Houstons front office has been active in searching out deals in recent days and wants an acquisition completed within the 60-day reaggregation window before the Feb. 19 NBA trade deadline. This way, the Rockets could still have an option of moving the player again this season.

In a deal, the Rockets can use any dollar amount up to the $8.4 million to balance out the incoming salary of a player.

Two teams believed that they had deals taking shape with the Rockets, but sense that Houston general manager Daryl Morey is working to find better deals. The Rockets have been pursuing a best-available-player mantra in talks, league sources said, but there appears to be a focus on wings and frontcourt players.

The Rockets acquired the trade exception from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the Jeremy Lin trade in July. Houston has until early July to use the exception, but has told teams that its treating Dec. 19 as its own deadline to get a deal done.

Despite missing center Dwight Howard for nine consecutives games, the Rockets are 16-4 and two games behind first-place Golden State in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets play the Warriors on Wednesday night in the Bay Area.


USC head coach Lane Kiffins NFL Lines seat only gets hotter every day as the Trojans head to Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night to face a now-unranked Arizona State squad.

The Trojans have only one loss this season, but the season hasnt been pretty. They lost as a 16-point favorite to Washington State, and last week only barely beat Utah State 17-14, improving to 3-1 SU but falling to 1-3 ATS. The Trojans are now 4-13 ATS over the past two seasons and 1-8 ATS coming off a straight-up win. The Sun Devils are now 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS after falling 42-28 to Stanford last week as 6.5-point underdogs. Arizona State is 3-11 ATS coming off an Over during the past three years. These two teams have split their past two meetings SU and ATS, with both teams winning and covering at home. While USC is 6-3 SU against Arizona State on the road since 1992, the Sun Devils are 5-4 ATS in those games. Overall dating back to 1992, USC is 15-4 SU and 11-8 ATS in this series.

Sophomore QB Cody Kessler leads the USC attack, completing 46-of-76 passes to start the season for four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has been inconsistent, however, as he was ultra-efficient while completing 15-of-17 passes in the teams week three blowout of Boston College, but in last weeks nail-biter, he was 13-for-27. His immobility can also be an issue as he has minus-8 rushing yards so far this season. The guy they can trust on the ground is Tre Madden, who is averaging 5.1 YPC with 90 touches and 455 yards in 2013, finding the end zone twice. Also with two rushing touchdowns is Justin Davis, who has 32 carries for 189 yards. The most dynamic threat in the offense, though, is Kesslers top target Marqise Lee (23 catches for 293 yards, 1 TD) who can make plays if Kessler is successful in finding him with the ball. The Trojans rushing defense has been a highlight in 2013, yielding only 2.2 YPC while the passing defense has also had its moments, limiting opponents to 4.8 yards per attempt. The 9.3 yards per completion, though, needs to be improved upon for this defense to be considered anything close to elite.

The Sun Devils have a much more aggressive passing attack led by QB Taylor Kelly, who has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,019 through three games on 82-of-137 passing. He has eight touchdowns but three interceptions this year, two of which came in the teams loss to Stanford while he was forced to sling the ball a whopping 55 times. Kelly's top target is Jaelen Strong (24 receptions for 330 yards, 2 TD) but he is good at spreading the wealth, with two other receivers pulling in two touchdowns apiece. To take the pressure off Kelly, RB Marion Grice must be more than a goal-line threat. He has six touchdowns already, but only 193 yards on 53 carries (3.6 YPC) this year. The Sun Devils defense has been mediocre against the run, giving up 4.7 YPC, and has been equally as questionable against the pass, allowing 6.7 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per completion. That was the problem against the Cardinal, surrendering a hefty 13.7 yards per completion.

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