March 29, 2019 / 2:41 AM / 25 days ago

Rockets inch closer to Nuggets with victory

James Harden scored 38 points, Clint Capela posted a double-double, and the host Houston Rockets closed the gap on the Denver Nuggets in the race for the second seed in the Western Conference with a 112-85 victory on Thursday.

Mar 28, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston clinched the season series with the win, along with home-court advantage in the event the teams close the regular season with the same record and meet in the playoffs.

Harden scored 16 points in the third quarter to help the Rockets fend off one Denver run after another. He tallied 11 consecutive points during one stretch in the period, with his two free throws with 54.7 seconds left stretching the lead to 85-65. The Nuggets had closed to within 71-58 midway through the third. Denver had its lead over the Rockets for second in the conference sliced to three games.

Capela totaled 17 points and 15 rebounds and claimed a spirited battle with Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic (16 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks), whose early thrust lifted Denver to a seven-point advantage late in the first quarter. When the Rockets initiated their comeback, the charge was sparked not by Harden or Capela, but reserve guard Austin Rivers.

Rivers began his scoring spree with a 3-pointer late in the first quarter before adding two more 3s early in the second. His trey in transition gave Houston a 30-27 lead, and when Rivers scored through a foul at the 6:58 mark of the second, the Rockets extended that advantage to 39-32.

Rivers started 6 for 6 from the floor and finished with 15 points plus three assists. Once he helped push the Rockets to a lead, Harden and Capela took charge to close the first half.

Harden and Capela combined for 16 points as Houston surged to a 58-42 lead. Chris Paul interrupted that stretch with two free throws at the 1:02 mark before Harden added a thunderous dunk with 26.6 seconds remaining as Houston carried a 62-44 lead into the break.

Eric Gordon added 18 points on 4-of-6 3-point shooting for the Rockets. Harden also had six rebounds and six assists.

Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 20 points while Monte Morris scored 16 off the bench.

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