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Harden’s 37 points, 11 assists propel Rockets over Cavs

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CLEVELAND — James Harden said all those hours he spends in the gymnasium pay off in games like these.

The All-Star guard exploded for a game-high 37 points, 11 assists and four steals in the Houston Rockets’ 118-111 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night before 19,058 at Quicken Loans Arena.

He was able to score all of those points on just 15 shots from the field.

Forward Chandler Parsons added 16 points and six assists for the Rockets.

Guard Dion Waiters had a team-high 26 points and eight assists for the Cavs (26-44). It was the Cavs’ fourth loss in a row — all to elite competition.

Waiters paced the Cavs with 26 points, four rebounds and eight assists. Since moving into the starting lineup three games ago, Waiters is averaging 24.3 points.

Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller added a career-high 23 points and six rebounds.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Harden converted 9 of 15 shots from the field, 5 of 8 from behind the arc and 14 of 14 from the foul line.

Cavs coach Mike Brown said he believes Harden is an “elite” player.

“His ability is off the charts,” he said.

An overzealous foul on Waiters resulted in a rare four-point play with 4:17 left in the third quarter when he flattened Harden beyond the 3-point line.

“Harden got most of his points in transition,” Brown said. “You have to hope he misses.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Harden got in an offensive rhythm.

“That’s what separates him from a lot of players,” he said. “He has the ability to do that.”

The Cavs are so decimated by injuries that after signing guard Seth Curry to a 10-day contract he was inserted into Brown’s rotation.

Curry went from playing for the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors to being the Cavs’ fourth guard in a span of a couple days.

Such is the sorry state of affairs for the Cavs.

They were forced to play without six players because of injuries, including two of their top three scorers in guard Kyrie Irving and forward Luol Deng.

They were not able to keep pace with the potent Rockets.

Harden blitzed the Cavs with a 17-point barrage in the third quarter. He never left the bench in the fourth quarter.

The Cavs are tired of their slow starts.

“We have to be the team that throws the first punch,” Waiters said.

The Rockets (47-22) had 39- and 36-point quarters en route to their lopsided victory.

Guard Patrick Beverley added 15 points and five assists, and forward Terrence Jones had 14 points and five rebounds.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao posted his 14th double-double on the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets guard Matthew Dellavedova had his second consecutive double-double with 14 points, six rebounds and 10 assists.

NOTES: The Cavs were playing without G Kyrie Irving (strained left biceps tendon), F Luol Deng (sprained left ankle), G/F C.J. Miles (sprained left ankle), G/F Sergey Karasev (strained patellar tendinitis), F Anthony Bennett (strained left patellar tendon) and G Carrick Felix (left patella stress fracture). … All-Star C Dwight Howard missed his third consecutive game after having a cyst removed from his right ankle. “He’s feeling better,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He’s not quite good enough.” … McHale was happy to have the 7-foot Omer Asik waiting in the wings at center. “He is really good defensively,” the coach said. He loves the way he communicates on the court. … Cavs G Dion Waiters is coming off a 30-point effort against Oklahoma City. However, he got called in on the carpet in coach Mike Brown’s office after the game. Brown wants him to rebound more. “I want him to have the right mentality tonight,” Brown said. … The Rockets shoot more 3-pointers than any team in the NBA. However, they are ranked 16th in 3-point percentage.