LOS ANGELES (dpa) – Hot-shot James Harden caught fire and the Portland Trail Blazers got smoked.
The league’s top scorer, Harden exploded for a season-high-tying 44 points Monday, and the Houston Rockets snapped the short-handed Trail Blazers’ five-game winning streak 110-95.
Hardin eclipsed the 40-point mark for a league-best third time this season, connecting on 14-of-26 field goals and four 3-pointers but fell two points shy of matching his career-high.
“I was being aggressive, my team was doing a great job of playing fast and finding me,” said Harden, who added seven assists and five steals.
Harden took advantage of the absence of visiting Portland’s top scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge (upper respiratory illness) and centre Robin Lopez (broken hand) to shred the Trail Blazers’ interior early and often.
The All-Star guard dropped in 19 first-quarter points and 31 by halftime as the Rockets took a commanding 73-53 cushion at the break.
Harden added 11 points, including three 3-pointers in the third quarter. He checked back into the game midway through the final frame, knocked down a jumper and headed for the bench with four minutes remaining, as the Rockets snapped a modest two-game slide.
Dwight Howard had 16 points and 13 rebounds while Corey Brewer added 12 with four rebounds, four assists and five steals in his Rockets’ debut after being acquired from Minnesota on Friday.
Damian Lillard scored 18 and CJ McCollum had 17 off the bench for Portland (19-8) which committed a season-high 23 turnovers, leading to 24 Houston points.
Chicago Bulls 129, Toronto Raptors 120: Derrick Rose returned from a two-game illness absence with 15 of his 29 team’s franchise-record 49 fourth-quarter points, Jimmy Butler added 27 with 11 rebounds, and the Bulls (18-9) ended the visiting Raptors’ six-game winning streak.
Kyle Lowry topped East-best Toronto (22-7) with 18 of his game-high 34 points in the final frame.
Atlanta Hawks 105, Dallas Mavericks 102: Germany’s Dennis Schroder poured in a career-high 22 points to lead a balanced attack, and the Hawks (20-7) held off the Mavericks after building a 24-point cushion for their 13th victory in the last 14 games.
Monta Ellis netted 18 points and German juggernaut Dirk Nowitzki added 16 for Dallas (20-9) which fell short despite a 39-23 fourth quarter.
Utah Jazz 97, Memphis Grizzlies 91: Alec Burks scored 13 of his 23 points in the final quarter, Gordon Hayward added 21, and the visiting Jazz (9-20) sent the suddenly-slumping Grizzlies to a season-high third straight setback.
Mike Conley had 28 points, Spaniard Marc Gasol added 24 with 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies (21-7), playing again without their top rebounder Zach Randolph (sore right knee) and defensive ace Tony Allen (scratched right eye).
San Antonio Spurs 125, LA Clippers 118: Frenchman Tony Parker returned from a five-game absence due to a left hamstring strain with 26 points, Tim Duncan added 21 with 12 rebounds, and the Spurs (18-11) shot a sizzling 64 per cent to snap a four-game slide after holding off the visiting Clippers.
Chris Paul tossed in 25 points while Blake Griffin added 22 for the Clippers (19-9), who stormed from 17 down to knot the game at 102 apiece but faded down the stretch.
Golden State Warriors 128, Sacramento Kings 108: Klay Thompson fired in 25 points, Stephen Curry added 12 with 11 assists, and the league-best Warriors (23-3) coasted past the visiting Kings.
Golden State got back starting forward David Lee, who had six points and seven rebounds, in his first action since suffering a left hamstring strain on November 6.
DeMarcus Cousins tallied 22 points for Sacramento (12-16), losers in 11 of its last 14 games.
Charlotte Hornets 110, Denver Nuggets 82: Al Jefferson scored 22 points, Kemba Walker added 18 with nine assists, and the Hornets (9-19) rolled the visiting Nuggets (12-16) for their season-high third straight victory.