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Rockets topple Heat in battle of unbeatens

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MIAMI — After his team dispatched the Miami Heat 108-91 Tuesday night in a battle of unbeatens at AmericanAirlines Arena, Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale was asked if people were “sleeping” on his club.

McHale made a joke at first, but then he let the media know how he really felt.

“I’m going to be sleeping in about 45 minutes — that’s the only sleep I’m worried about,” McHale said.

Turning serious, McHale added: “I don’t care what anyone thinks. Why would I care what you thought? I care about what we do in that locker room with our guys.

“I’ve never worried about (what outsiders thought). All that caring goes away when you step on that floor — you have to compete.”

Rockets shooting guard James Harden did just that, coming within one rebound of a triple-double. He finished with 25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Harden made 10 of 10 from the foul line and is perfect for the season from the stripe — 26 of 26.

“Give credit to Harden — he played a fantastic game,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “He made every single play.”

Rockets center Dwight Howard posted game highs with 26 points and 10 rebounds, helping Houston (5-0) remain one of three unbeaten teams left in the NBA. The others are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors.

Houston small forward Trevor Ariza scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. He made five of eight 3-point attempts, including three of four in the fourth quarter, when the Rockets extended their six-point lead to put Miami away.

“They have a high-octane offense,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Rockets. “They outplayed us the last eight minutes.”

Miami (3-1) got 21 points and eight rebounds from Bosh, and 19 points from guard Dwyane Wade.

Bosh had two fouls in the first half and was limited to six points in 10 minutes. He got hot in the third quarter, scoring 11 points.

“In the first half, we did a good job making him see bodies,” Howard said. “In the second half, he got a little loose on the 3-point line. I take the blame for that — I have to do a better job of closing him out, making him put the ball on the floor and trusting my teammates behind me.”

Bosh was the big-ticket free agent the Rockets tried to sign in the offseason. Even after forward LeBron James left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bosh decided to re-sign with Miami.

Harden and Bosh entered Tuesday as two of the top 10 scorers in the league, but some of the teams’ lesser-known players also contributed significantly.

For the Rockets, that included point guard Patrick Beverley, who returned after missing two games due to a hamstring injury. He had 15 points and made four of seven 3-point attempts.

Houston forward Kostas Papanikolaou came off the bench to add eight points, seven rebounds and five assists, including four assists in the first quarter.

Miami’s 7-foot center, Justin Hamilton, playing just his 11th NBA game, had a breakout performance with a career-high nine points. He made three of six 3-point tries and added seven rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 30 minutes.

The Heat led 31-30 at the end of a high-scoring first quarter. Miami made five of six 3-pointers, and Houston made five of eight. The Rockets also got 12 points from Howard in the quarter.

Harden had 12 points in the second quarter, which helped Houston take a 57-55 lead into halftime.

Houston extended its lead to 83-77 after three quarters and pulled away in the fourth thanks to Ariza’s shooting and some tight defense. Miami shot just 20 percent in the fourth quarter and was outscored 25-14.

“We kept saying, ‘defense, defense,'” Harden said. “We got stops when we needed them.”

Next up, Miami completes its second of three straight back-to-back games by playing at Charlotte on Wednesday.

Houston’s schedule, which was soft early with four potential lottery teams, got tougher this week with Miami on Tuesday followed by home games against San Antonio on Thursday and Golden State on Saturday.

NOTES: Rockets C Dwight Howard (sore right knee) has yet to miss a game this season. Last season, Howard appeared in 71 regular-season games. … Rockets F Terrence Jones (knee) missed a game for the first time this season. F Donatas Motiejunas replaced him in the lineup, making his first start of the season and scoring two points. … Houston is off to its best start since 1996-97, when it started the season with six wins. … Heat F Chris Bosh was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 25.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in Miami’s first three games. Bosh is reportedly guaranteed more money on his current contract ($118.7 million) than any player in the NBA. … Heat F Chris “Birdman ” Andersen (bruised ribs) missed his second straight game. … Heat Fs Udonis Haslem (quadriceps) and Danny Granger (hamstring) have yet to play this season.

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

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