James Harden leads Rockets over Pacers with season-high 45

HOUSTON -- Rockets coach Kevin McHale lamented Houston's lack of effort in a lopsided loss to Golden State on Saturday.

There was no such problem Monday.

James Harden scored a season-high 45 points, including 18 in the third quarter, and the Rockets led from start to finish in a 110-98 win over the Indiana Pacers.

"I think the way we came out, that's the way we should come out every single game," Harden said. "We focused on defense and offensively making it easy for each other. They didn't gain any ground on us because we kept being consistent with what we did."

It was the 18th 30-point game and fourth with 40 this season for Harden, the NBA's leading scorer. He bounced back after scoring just 11 in the 131-106 loss to Golden State. He had a career-best 33 points after halftime.

Houston led by 10 at the break and used a 33-point third quarter, thanks in large part to four 3-pointers from Harden, to push the lead to 20 entering the fourth.

"He's having a special year," McHale said. "A couple of those shots he made, there's nothing a defender can do."

Pacers coach Frank Vogel raved about Harden, who is averaging 27.1 points per game.

"He's having ... an MVP-type season," Vogel said. "He has to be in that conversation and was just way too much for us tonight."

The Pacers outscored Houston 30-21 in the final period, and a 5-0 run got them within eight with 2 1/2 minutes left. But Harden scored seven points after that to secure the victory.

C.J. Miles had 23 points to lead the Pacers, who have lost five straight.

Harden finished one point shy of his career high. Dwight Howard had 14 points and 17 rebounds for the Rockets.

Corey Brewer's jump shot to start the fourth quarter stretched Houston's lead to 91-68. Indiana answered with a 13-4 run to cut the deficit to 95-81 with 8 minutes left.

Roy Hibbert cut Houston's lead to nine with a dunk midway through the third quarter before a 19-4 run by the Rockets pushed it to 86-62 with 2 minutes left in the period. Harden was unstoppable during that stretch, hitting three 3-pointers in just more than a minute late in the run. The Pacers missed five shots and turned the ball over twice as Houston padded the lead.

Harden made four of six 3-pointers in the third quarter and almost had a fifth one. He stepped in front of a bad pass by Luis Scola with a second remaining and launched a shot from well beyond the 3-point line that swished through the net. But officials ruled that he didn't get it off in time.

Indiana had cut the lead to six early in the second quarter when Brewer outscored the Pacers 6-2 over the next minute and a half to make it 35-25.

The Pacers were down by 12 later in the quarter when they used a 13-2 spurt, with six points from Donald Sloan, to get to 41-40.

Sloan had back-to-back turnovers after that to help the Rockets start a 14-5 run that left them up 55-45 at halftime. Jason Terry had seven points to power that surge.

The Rockets led 11-2 early after making three 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes. Patrick Beverley made two in that span and Trevor Ariza hit the other one.

The Pacers were down by 13 later in the quarter before using an 11-5 run to cut the lead to 22-15.

Houston led 29-21 entering the second quarter.



Pacers: G George Hill, out since Dec. 31 with a groin injury, is improving and could play soon. Vogel said Hill will be re-evaluated Tuesday. ... Ian Mahinmi had 14 rebounds.

Rockets: Brewer scored 13 for his ninth double-digit game with the Rockets. ... Houston improved to 23-2 when leading at halftime.


Houston forward Terrence Jones, who hasn't played since Nov. 3 because of nerve inflammation in his left leg, is improving and could return soon. McHale hasn't said when Jones will play again, but said recently that he's getting close. Jones is feeling good and is excited to be making progress.

"It's a blessing to be able to get up and down and finally move my leg a little bit," Jones said. "I'm able to jump and do a lot of things with the basketball that a couple of months ago I couldn't do at all."


Pacers: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday.

Rockets: Visit Golden State on Wednesday.