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Clutch play by James Harden lifts Rockets over Nuggets

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James Harden goes full MVBeard in the game’s closing moments.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden scored 39 points, including a coast-to-coast layup with just 2 seconds left on the clock, to send the Rockets to a 125-124 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Harden followed up his game-winning basket by also making a game-saving defensive play, knocking the ball away on the lobbed Denver inbound pass to seal the Houston win. In addition to his heroics, The Beard also finished with 11 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals, and his 39 points comes directly after back-to-back 40-plus point games. To say Harden is making a late push to close out the season and the MVP race would be an understatement.

This was a tough game, however, with the Rockets playing very little defense for long stretches. In fact, after being up 13 points at one point in the first half, Houston gave up 59 total points in the second and third quarters combined, and they allowed Denver to hit 51 percent of their shots for the game, as the Rockets trailed the Nuggets at the half and after three.

Gary Harris had a career-high 28 points, Will Barton had 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, and Nikola Jokic put up a robust 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists for a Nuggets squad that gave the Rockets a run for their money in consecutive games.

The Nuggets also out-rebounded the Rockets 48-35, and they scored 52 points in the paint to help put the Rockets in a hole, but Houston turned it up when they needed it in the fourth quarter. The Rockets went on a 9-0 run, sparked by back-to-back-to-back three pointers from Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley to put Houston up 103-97 in the fourth quarter, and it was a back-and-forth contest from there leading up to Harden’s heroics.

In addition to The Beard’s big night, the Rockets also got 18 points from Gordon, who was 4-7 from deep, 14 each from Beverley and Trevor Ariza, followed by 12 from Clint Capela and 10 from Ryan Anderson to lead 6 Rockets in double-digit scoring on the night. The Rockets as a team shot 50.6 percent and went 17-38 from behind the three-point line.

Houston is now 49-22 and are a full 6 games in front of the Utah Jazz for the third seed in the Western Conference. Both teams have just 11 games remaining, so the Rockets have command of that third seed, and it’s there’s to lose as we head down the season’s final stretch. The Jazz have lost three games in a row.

The Nuggets, who are trying to hold on to the eighth and final seed in the West, are now just a half game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot.

The Rockets now have three full days off before taking on New Orleans Thursday night at the Toyota Center. That’s the lead up to a huge nationally-televised contest against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon.