James Harden scored 28 points and the Houston Rockets clinched a playoff berth with a 113-90 victory over the host New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night.
Harden, who leads the NBA with an average of 36.4 points per game, didn’t sustain the pace that saw him score a combined 118 points in the previous two games, but he didn’t need to.
He played just 29 minutes as the Rockets rolled to a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter and cruised to their 14th victory in 16 games and remained in third place in the Western Conference.
After scoring 57 points in an overtime loss at Memphis last Wednesday and tying a career-high with 61 points in a home victory against San Antonio on Friday, Harden made 10 of 19 shots, including 6 of 12 on 3-point attempts as Houston made 21 of 49 treys.
Harden was supported by two former Pelicans guards as Eric Gordon added 18 points and Chris Paul had 10 points and 13 assists. Danuel House Jr. scored 14 points and P.J. Tucker and Kenneth Faried scored 11 each. Clint Capela added 17 rebounds to go with eight points.
Frank Jackson scored 19 points, Julius Randle added 15, Stanley Johnson scored 13 and Anthony Davis had 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Pelicans, who lost for the eighth time in nine games as they played the opener of a five-game homestand.
Houston led by 19 at halftime and New Orleans couldn’t make a strong run in the second half.
The Pelicans cut the deficit to 14 early in the third quarter, but Gordon answered with a 3-pointer and Harden followed with five straight points. The Rockets took an 87-69 lead into the fourth quarter.
Harden and Gordon both scored 12 points, and the Rockets made 7 of 15 from behind the arc in taking a 33-19 lead after the first quarter.
Houston made 6 of 12 3-pointers in the second quarter and led by as many as 23 points.
The Pelicans trimmed the deficit before Harden’s 3-pointer with five seconds left gave the Rockets a 63-44 halftime lead.
—Field Level Media