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Rockets, Harden handle Pacers

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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HOUSTON — In the aftermath of an eruptive stretch that had Houston guard James Harden stomping and shouting in delight, he worked to steer the conversation toward subdued analysis of the Rockets’ 112-86 drubbing of the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.

The Rockets extended their home-court winning streak to seven games and improved to 14-0 against the Eastern Conference at the Toyota Center. But after squeaking by the two-time defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night, Houston dismantled the league-leading Pacers (46-16) with a riveting 33-6 run in the third quarter that left a lasting impression.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the new year,” said Harden, who finished with a game-high 28 points. “We’ve kind of gotten a feel for each other and we have gotten better. Our guys are healthy.”

Harden scored 16 points during a blitz that arose from thin air. Pacers forward Paul George had consecutive baskets that pulled the Pacers to 50-47 before the Rockets scored nine points in three trips, capped by consecutive three-point plays from center Dwight Howard and Harden.

Indiana managed one basket, a David West jumper, in the ensuing four-plus minutes as Houston flipped a 12-point lead into 76-51 bulge.

Houston (43-19) made 14-of-21 shots from the field and committed just one turnover in the third quarter, with Harden leaving his fingerprints all over the domination. He nailed three 3-pointers and threw down a thunderous dunk in transition that left the partisan crowd delirious.

“When James gets it going, we just want to find him,” Howard said. “He’s a great shooter, he’s a great player (and) he’s having a great season. We just want to keep it going.

“He’s leading the way on the offensive end scoring at will, being aggressive and attacking the basket. We’re making plays for each other and that’s key, especially on the offensive end.”

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, who led by as many as 32 points, sat their starters the duration of the fourth quarter.

The Pacers dropped their third consecutive game, their longest skid this season, in their most lopsided loss. West finished with a double-double (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.

“We’re not the same team (defensively) and I feel like last year, even the beginning of this year, we would always impose our will, play physical,” Pacers guard George Hill said. “I feel like now we’re at a point where we’re letting teams do what they want to do and not imposing our will.”

Trailing 40-24 midway through in the second quarter, the Pacers responded by attacking with diversity, mixing jumpers from center Roy Hibbert and forward Luis Scola with transition baskets from Hill and the interior thump of West, who worked over Rockets forward Terrence Jones.

Indiana scored 10 points in the final 3:01 of the half, slicing nine points off the deficit to enter the break trailing 50-43. George pulled them closer before Houston erupted and ran roughshod to victory.

“We blew them out in the first game at our place when we played them,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They were seeking a payback and they came out and played a better basketball game, a much better basketball game than we did so you have to give them credit.”

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.”

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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