LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – James Harden had 39 points and 12 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 113-97 victory Thursday night over the Los Angeles Lakers, who played without LeBron James.
The Lakers, who on Monday won the first seed in the Western Conference, did not have James due to a painful right ingestion.
Russell Westbrook also missed the rockets, due to a right quadriceps. But the combination of Harden’s great play and Houston’s long-range shooting was enough to take care of the Lakers. The Rockets made it 21 of 57 to 3, while Los Angeles got 2 of 19.
The Lakers scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to reduce the score to 94-89 with about eight minutes to go. Houston had three goals and didn’t score in fourth place until Harden’s disposition with just over seven minutes to let Los Angeles close.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni has shown a good word about the way Harden has been playing since the restart of the season.
“His commitment to defense is number one,” he said. “He stays locked up and tries to win everything he needs, accepting double teams and trying to try to bust the other guys. So there are a lot of good things to marvel at.”;
Harden’s throw started Houston’s foul and it was the start of an 11-0 run that pushed the lead to 105-89 with five minutes to go. Harden, Austin Rivers and Robert Covington each made a three-point lead in that period.
“We’re playing pretty well,” Harden said. “There are a lot of especially defensive things we can fix, but I think our energy … and the pace has been good.”
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 21 points and Anthony Davis added 17 points with 12 rebounds.
“Sometimes we did some things wrong, sometimes we did it right,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “He learns from the tape and puts himself on the game plan for the next time he plays these guys.”
A shot from Quinn Cook got the Lakers to stand at ten-thirty in the third quarter. Houston scored the next seven points, with a 3 from Harden, to extend the lead to 86-69 about a minute later.
The Rockets used a 5-0 run led by a 3-point score from PJ Tucker to make it 91-73 later in the third quarter. Los Angeles wrapped up the third with a 6-3 result to reduce the deficit to 94-79 and entered the fourth.
Harden said the Rockets are focused on improving defense as the playoffs approach.
“Our energy, our effort and our defensive aggressiveness are something we have to hang our hats on,” he said.
Lakers: Alex Caruso came out with a sore neck. … Rajon Rondo (right thumb surgery) arrived in Florida on Wednesday and has to be tested negative for coronavirus seven times in a row before entering the bubble. But it is not clear when he will be able to start practicing. … Dwight Howard had eight points and 15 rebounds after losing Wednesday’s game with a knee injury.
Rockets: G Eric Gordon, who has lost all four games in the bubble after breaking his left ankle in a scrimmage, has started firing again after resting his ankle for several days. Coach Mike D’Antoni expects Gordon to be able to play at least one game before the playoffs begin on August 17th.
Lakers: Play the Pacers on Saturday.
Rockets: Play in Sacramento Sunday night.
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