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James Harden pushes Rockets past Lakers in Westbrook’s absence

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James Harden scores 39 points in Houston Rockets’ victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

On Tuesday, an old flame, Carmelo Anthony, helped hand the Houston Rockets their first loss of the NBA’s seeding games. On Thursday, the Rockets made sure not to make that same blunder again, as Houston took a 113-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers (51-17), inside The Arena in Orlando. With the win, the Rockets improve to 43-25 on the season, 3-1 during the restart.

The Rockets’ dominance over the Lakers began with an open layup attempt by James Harden late in the first quarter. The basket gave Houston a 22-21 advantage and a lead they would not relinquish. Harden would go on to score 25 of his game-high 39 points (11-for-19 FG, 5-for-10 3PT) in the first half — as the Rockets took a 65-56 lead into the halftime break.

In addition to his scoring, Harden had to carry the weight as the primary facilitator in Russell Westbrook’s absence. Mike D’Antoni ruled his star point guard out prior to the game due to a right quad contusion. Harden recorded 12 assists in the win.

“I think he [Russell Westbrook] has a real good shot at being ready for our next game. Having said that, we are not going to push him. He has to be completely well, or he will sit a little bit more. But we are hoping for Sunday.” — D’Antoni

Ben McLemore, who started in place of the injured Westbrook, assisted Harden in the scoring department. He added 20 points while shooting 50.0% from behind the arc. He scored 17 in the first 24 minutes, where the Rockets held their biggest lead (16) of the half.

The closest the Lakers got within the Rockets’ lead was five points early in the fourth quarter following a 16-3 run. Houston held a 15 point lead entering the final period, but missed nine consecutive shots to allow Los Angeles back in the game.

Despite a double-double performance from Anthony Davis, 17 points and 12 rebounds, the Rockets small-ball play nearly made his production irrelevant.

Los Angeles was without LeBron James, who was ruled out due to a groin injury. The Lakers’ 3-point shooting woes from their previous loss on Wednesday carried over into Thursday’s game. L.A. shot an appalling 10.5% from behind the arc, 15.6% over the past two games. The Lakers outrebounded the Rockets 49-34, as Dwight Howard recorded a game-high 15 boards in the loss.

“I think we did a pretty good job. I think we have been fighting and competing. Obviously, [with] their length, they are going to get a couple more offensive rebounds than we want. But I think with ball pressure and getting steals makes up for it.” — James Harden

Jeff Green continued to provide the Rockets with a spark off the bench scoring 15 points (6-for-13 FG) in 27 minutes. Danuel House Jr. added 14 points, connecting on five out of his 13 attempts from the field.

Up next, the Rockets will return to action on Sunday, against the 29-39 Sacramento Kings. Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. CT.