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Rockets edge Knicks behind 36 from Harden

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HOUSTON – Rockets coach Kevin McHale made another reference to his desire for limiting the minutes of his two remaining healthy starters on Monday night, but as that thought trailed off McHale seemed to acknowledge the unlikelihood of that scenario actually taking place.

After forward Trevor Ariza shifted momentum with his defense, guard James Harden scored the final 12 points for the Houston Rockets in their 91-86 win over the New York Knicks on Monday night at Toyota Center.

Houston, missing three-fifths of its starting lineup, faced a surprisingly feisty challenge from the Knicks, who lost forward and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony to back spasms at halftime. Even without Anthony, New York surged to a 78-72 lead in the fourth quarter before Ariza and Harden worked in tandem to carry the Rockets to victory.

“I just knew I had to be aggressive, that was it,” Harden said after scoring a season-high 36 points on 11-of-22 shooting. “We got down six after Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a big 3 and I just wanted to be aggressive. My teammates were looking for me and I knocked down shots and just tried to make plays.”

Harden added six rebounds, six assists and three steals to his stat line, one that included seven 3-pointers over 39 laborious minutes. After an awful start to the season from 3-point range, Harden has hit 13 of 24 treys over his last three games.

Forward Donatas Motiejunas chipped in 13 points and eight boards for the Rockets (11-3), who defeated the Knicks for the 10th straight time. Ariza added 10 points and three steals in 42 minutes. The 10 straight wins ties the Rockets’ franchise-high for consecutive victories in the series.

Despite missing the second half, Anthony paced the Knicks with 14 points. In fact, Anthony was the lone Knick to score in double figures. Guard Jose Calderon and reserve forward Travis Wear tallied nine points apiece, while reserve forward Amar’e Stoudemire and reserve guards Shane Larkin, Pablo Prigioni and J.R. Smith scored eight each.

“James Harden was getting miraculous calls down the stretch, as if an angel came down and started calling calls for him,” Stoudemire said. “Just don’t see how he was getting those foul calls.”

Harden converted all six of his free-throw attempts in the fourth.

The Knicks (4-11) turned the sudden loss of Anthony into a galvanizing event. They continued their 7-0 run that closed the second quarter by opening the third with an 8-3 spurt, erasing a 12-point deficit and securing a 54-54 tie when Larkin hit an 18-foot jumper.

That began a stretch that resulted in New York shooting 9-for-18 in the third quarter while recording seven assists. Six Knicks accounted for the nine field goals, with Stoudemire sinking a seven-foot baseline shot with 27.5 seconds left that pulled the Knicks even entering the fourth.

“We just couldn’t finish,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. “We did a decent job in the third quarter, but we were unable to keep our offense going.”

Harden scored 14 points prior to the intermission and hit three of the Rockets’ seven 3-pointers. And when the Knicks shot their way to the lead, Houston unleashed the defense that has carried it this season.

“We see that we give ourselves a chance, especially when our offense isn’t going the way we want it to do, Ariza said.” “When we play defense we always give ourselves a chance to be in the game.”

NOTES: Rockets G Patrick Beverley (left hamstring) returned to the inactive list, elevating second-year G Isaiah Canaan back into the starting lineup. With F Terrence Jones (left leg nerve inflammation) and C Dwight Howard (right knee) also out, Houston featured its seventh different starting lineup in 14 games. … The Rockets recalled G Nick Johnson from Rio Grande Valley of the NBA Development League. Johnson averaged 21.7 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals in three games with the Vipers. … While the Rockets entered Monday leading the NBA in 3-pointers taken and made per game, the Knicks paced the league in 3-point shooting percentage (40.6 percent). Houston made 14 of 36 3-pointers Monday (38.9 percent); New York went six of 22 from deep (27.3 percent). … Knicks G Jose Calderon made his second consecutive start, putting behind him the calf injury that cost him the first 13 games of the season.

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

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