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Rockets 11, Pelicans 104

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HOUSTON — Guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin converted back-to-back driving layups as Houston erased a 15-point deficit to claim a 111-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night at Toyota Center.

Harden supplied the Rockets (53-27) their first lead since the second quarter with 1:04 left, and Lin pushed the lead to 107-104 with 33 seconds remaining. The Rockets closed the contest with a 15-0 run.

Harden paired 33 points with 13 assists while Lin added 18 points and four steals off the bench.

Forward Luke Babbitt scored a career-high 24 points for the Pelicans (32-48) while guard Austin Rivers added 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Rockets guard Patrick Beverley matched his career high of 20 points in his return from an eight-game injury hiatus.

He drilled a pair of corner 3s in consecutive possessions, the second of which bounced straight up off the rim before dropping into the net. That cut the deficit to 104-103 with 1:36 to play.

Babbitt converted a driving layup with 2:47 left — the last Pelicans basket.

Missing their top seven scorers, the Pelicans were quick to show they had no intention of rolling over. Rivers drilled a 3 to open the second quarter and secure the lead and New Orleans held the Rockets scoreless for nearly three minutes while building a 35-31 lead.

That defensive effort, absent for most of the season even when healthy, propelled the Pelicans to a larger advantage during a critical stretch closing the first half.

After missing all three 3-point attempts in the first quarter, the Pelicans drilled 6 of 9 in the second, including five over the final four-plus minutes of the half. Their lone non-trey of that span came when center Alexis Ajinca completed a three-point play at the 4:17 mark.

When Morrow drained a 26-footer with 63 seconds left in the half, the Pelicans led 59-44 and set the stage for the Rockets to mount a series of surges that extended into the waning minutes of the fourth.

NOTES: Rockets G Patrick Beverley returned to the starting lineup after missing eight games because of a right meniscus tear. Through intense rehab, Beverley managed a comeback in advance of the postseason, an apparent necessity given the steady deterioration of the Rockets’ defense. “I just think the biggest thing is my wind and my rhythm, and me getting confidence playing on (the knee) again instead of waiting for the playoffs to just jump in it,” Beverley said. “I think this is a great timetable for the injury I had.” … Rockets C Dwight Howard also returned after missing eight games because of a left ankle strain. … With Pelicans G Brian Roberts sidelined by a left ankle injury, New Orleans was down six rotation players Saturday night. With the end of the season near, playing with determination through adversity is a challenge. “We need to rally around each other in times like this,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “Not forget that we’re trying to win games and not just get through.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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