HOUSTON — If the Houston Rockets left any doubt of their status as championship contenders with their white-knuckle victory over the two-time champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night, they silenced them by drubbing the Indiana Pacers 112-86 on Friday night at the Toyota Center.
Rockets guard James Harden scored 16 of his 28 points during a 33-6 blitz in the third quarter that followed two Paul George baskets that pulled the Pacers (46-16) to 50-47.
Houston (43-19) made 14-of-21 shots from the field and committed just one turnover in the third quarter en route to improving to 14-0 against the Eastern Conference at home this season.
Center Dwight Howard added 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists and forward Chandler Parsons chipped in 11 points and six assists for Houston, which fell 114-81 at Indiana on Dec. 20. The Rockets extended their home winning streak to seven games.
The Pacers dropped their third consecutive game, their longest skid this season. Forward David West posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds and George had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field.
Having mustered just 10 assists in the loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Rockets matched that total in the first quarter, turning an exhibition of exceptional ball movement into a 27-16 lead entering the second.
Houston relied on bursts of efficiency to build its double-digit lead, parlaying spurts of 8-0 and 14-2 into that advantage. The Rockets attacked the rim despite the presence of Pacers center Roy Hibbert inside, scoring 16 points in the paint in the first quarter, mostly off dribble penetration.
The Rockets followed a 3-pointer by Pacers reserve forward Rasual Butler with a 9-2 run that built their lead to 40-24.
Staggered, the Pacers responded by attacking with diversity, mixing jumpers from Hibbert and forward Luis Scola with transition baskets from guard George Hill and the interior thump of West, who worked over second-year forward Terrence Jones.
Indiana scored 10 points in the final 3:01 of the half, slicing seven points off the Rockets’ advantage to enter the break trailing 50-43.
NOTES: Rockets G Patrick Beverley broke his nose Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic and expressed displeasure with the discomfort he felt wearing a prototype protective mask during shootaround on Friday morning. Beverley arrived at the Toyota Center prior to tipoff sporting the mask he would wear during the game. … Despite possessing the best record in the NBA since Jan. 1, the Rockets continue to struggle with turnovers, posting a 16.9 percent turnover ratio in the 27 games before the showdown with the Indiana Pacers. “We’re getting better in a lot of areas and one small area is we’re getting rid of the ball quicker,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “And we’ve got to keep on doing that. I know it doesn’t show, but we work hard on not turning it over.” … The Pacers allowed 100 points only three times in their last 10 games, but because Indiana is 6-4 during that span, questions abound over their league-leading defense. “I don’t think we’re terrible,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re not as dominant as we were earlier in the season. Just normal ebbs and flows of the season.”
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