Harden scores 35 points as Rockets beat Trail Blazers

Associated Press
2/8/2013 10:58:55 PM
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HOUSTON -- James Harden put on an All-Star performance just before the real thing comes to Houston.

Harden had 35 points and 11 assists, Chandler Parsons scored 20 and the Rockets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 on Friday night.

Harden went 13 for 16 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point range, a near-perfect night in the last game at the Toyota Center before it plays host to the NBA's All-Star weekend. Acquired by Houston in a stunning trade with Oklahoma City just before the season, Harden was chosen as a reserve for the West squad, making his first All-Star team.

"I'm just focused on rallying these guys together, every single game," Harden said. "If I'm leading and showing my work ethic, they'll follow."

LaMarcus Aldridge, another All-Star reserve for the West, scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Portland. The Blazers had won the previous two meetings this season in overtime, rallying from double-digit deficits in both.

Not this time. Houston preserved a comfortable lead for most of the second half, and Harden finished off Portland with a fadeaway jumper from the wing with just under 4 minutes remaining.

"Tonight was one of those where it's just like he makes play after play after play," Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin said, "and then you look up and you realize, 'Oh, he had a great game.' You kind of take it for granted sometimes."

Nicolas Batum scored 24 points and Damian Lillard had 18 for the Blazers, who never slowed down the Rockets' high-powered offence. Houston shot a season-high 59.5 per cent (47 of 79) from the field and is averaging 118.4 points in its last seven games.

"Houston is shooting the ball well these days," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They were shooting the ball well inside, outside and mid-range, and were getting to the rim. We didn't have any answers for them defensively."

Early on, Houston repeatedly found openings inside and hit 12 of its first 15 shots. When Portland crowded the lane, the Rockets passed outside for open 3s, and they hit five of their first seven attempts. They finished with 27 assists.

"We can hurt you in so many different ways," said Parsons, who will represent Houston in the Rising Stars Challenge next weekend.

Aldridge and J.J. Hickson, meanwhile, got easy baskets inside and made nine of their first 14 shots to keep Portland close.

The Blazers played better defence at the start of the second quarter to pull within one. Houston got rolling again, and Parsons finished a quick 10-0 burst to put the Rockets up 47-36 with 6:31 left in the first half.

Aldridge continued to carry Portland, dominating whichever Houston big man tried to front him.

"Monster. Beast," Harden said. "He's an All-Star. He did his job."

Aldridge scored 19 in the first half, but the Rockets shot 65 per cent (24 of 37), a season best for a half, and led 62-52 at the break.

The Rockets continued to find open paths to the basket in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 15 -- matching their largest lead when the teams played in Portland in November.

Houston didn't let up in this one. Patrick Patterson slammed home a rebound and Harden sank another 3 to keep the Rockets comfortably ahead as the third quarter wound down. Harden was 11 for 12 from the field -- with three 3-pointers and 11 rebounds through three quarters.

Parsons started the fourth quarter by swishing a 3 from the corner, and backup point guard Patrick Beverley was fouled on a breakaway layup after a steal and converted both free throws for a 100-80 Houston lead.

Harden capped his night with a fadeaway jumper over Lillard with 3:55 left to put the Rockets up 112-93. Harden was coming off a 36-point night in Miami and now has at least a double-double in three of his last four games, including a triple-double.

"He's making shots and he's making plays," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "You look at a guy with 35 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and (he) threw a steal in there. It was really impressive."

NOTES: Aldridge has seven consecutive double-doubles. ... Rockets point guard Toney Douglas limped off the floor with a left hip injury and did not return. ... Retired C Yao Ming sat courtside with his agent, John Huizinga. Yao, an eight-time All-Star with Houston, retired in July 2011. ... Rockets rookie Royce White had his physical and is expected to report to the team's development league affiliate on Monday. White has not played this season as he and the Rockets negotiated an agreement to help him cope with his anxiety disorder and balance the demands of the NBA schedule.

James Harden (Photo: Bill Baptist/Getty Images)


(Photo: Bill Baptist/Getty Images)
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