James Harden helps Rockets past Clippers; Blake Griffin nets 11

LOS ANGELES -- James Harden and the Houston Rockets got back on track after a pair of frustrating road losses, overcoming Blake Griffin's return for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Harden scored 34 points, Terrence Jones had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the Rockets beat Los Angeles 100-98 on Sunday to salvage a split of their four-game season series.

Trevor Ariza had 19 points and nine boards, helping Houston move within two games of idle Memphis for the Southwest Division lead with 16 games left on the schedule. It was the Rockets' first game since they lost to Portland and Utah on consecutive days last week.

"It was very important for us, just to go out and play well," Harden said. "The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today and made key plays. Guys got a lot of open shots, our bigs touched the ball a lot -- it was Rockets basketball today."

Harden was 7 for 16 from the field and 17 for 18 from the free-throw line, missing his last one with 8.2 seconds to go.

Chris Paul scored 23 points and DeAndre Jordan grabbed 20 rebounds for the Clippers, but Paul missed a five-foot fadeaway jumper as time expired. Griffin, who was sidelined for 15 games after he had surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow, had 11 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers in 40 minutes.

"I didn't think I played well," Griffin said. "I was out of rhythm -- way too many turnovers. I didn't put us in a position to win. I've got to be better. The elbow was a little sore, more so toward the end, but we expected that. It was nothing out of the ordinary."

Griffin started out as a facilitator with four assists in the first quarter, setting up a pair of 3-pointers by J.J. Redick, another by Matt Barnes, and an alley-oop dunk by Jordan to help the Clippers build a 30-22 lead.

"Not having Blake hurt us in a lot of ways," coach Doc Rivers said. "Teams were able to trap C.P. far more than they can when Blake's on the floor because of Blake's ability to pass. I'm sure C.P. is the happiest of all of them to have him back. I think it will really help D.J. because, the last three or four games he's actually been double-teamed on the glass."

Austin Rivers and newly acquired Nate Robinson led Los Angeles on a 9-0 run that reduced a 12-point deficit to 86-83 with 8:42 remaining. Jones slowed the Clippers' momentum with a pair of tip-in baskets 46 seconds apart after Harden missed a jumper and a driving layup.

"T.J.'s been playing like that since he's come back from his injury," Harden said. "We had so many guys who made big plays today."

Los Angeles then made another charge, tying it at 96 with a 13-3 run capped by Paul's jumper with 3:06 to play. But Jones hit a 3-pointer with 1:55 to go, and the Rockets got the benefit of an offensive foul by Griffin against Ariza with 12 seconds left after Ariza's intended pass to Harden was intercepted by Griffin.

Houston star Dwight Howard was sidelined for the 22nd straight game because of an injured right knee. He has missed 34 altogether this season, and the Rockets are 18-16 with him out of the lineup.

"Without Dwight, we're not the biggest team," coach Kevin McHale said. "So we have got to move, cut and get people lanes so that they can drive to the hoop -- and then when they collapse, like the Clippers do, throw it back out. We did a good job of that in the second and third quarter. The fourth quarter we dried up a little bit."


Patrick Beverley's 3-pointer with 8:13 left in the second quarter ended the Houston's opening 0-for-11 drought from behind the arc. The Rockets went 7 for 30 from 3-point range for the game.


Rockets: The Rockets are 30-3 when allowing fewer than 100 points. ... Houston snapped a seven-game road losing streak against the Clippers.

Clippers: The introduction of the Clippers' starting lineup was handled by Kermit the Frog on the videoboard. ... Barnes came out early to practice his free-throw shooting and got his shoulder loose by slamming the ball against the glass several times from the line. ... The Clippers were 9-6 in Griffin's absence.


Rockets: Host Orlando on Tuesday night.

Clippers: Host Charlotte on Tuesday night.