WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - James Harden's offence headlines his National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidacy.
But the All-Star guard's defence stood out in the closing minute against the Washington Wizards, helping the Houston Rockets to a 99-91 victory on Sunday.
The Wizards laboured offensively early, trailed by double figures most of the game yet pulled within six points while maintaining possession with 25 seconds remaining.
Guard Bradley Beal received the ball on the left wing with plans on shooting a three-pointer.
He attempted the deep shot but Harden's hustle ensured the ball never sniffed the basket.
Ridiculed at times during his career for lack of defensive effort, Harden raced in Beal's direction, and his perfectly-timed leap led to an emphatic blocked shot, effectively sealing Houston's fourth straight win and seventh in eight games.
"I'm surprised he got up there," Rockets centre Dwight Howard joked about Harden.
"He's not known for blocking shots. That's what MVPs do."
Harden is known for scoring and led the Rockets (50-23) with 24 points and six assists.
Forward Corey Brewer scored 15 points and forward Josh Smith added 14 for the Rockets.
Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds in his third game after two months out following knee surgery.
Houston held Washington (41-33) to 39 per cent shooting overall.
"I think our mindset was go out there and lock down defensively," Harden said. "The second half, they went on a run which we knew they were going to do, but wanted to sustain (our defensive effort)."
Guard John Wall finished with 25 points for the Wizards.
The All-Star also had 12 assists and made 11 of 12 free throws.
Washington have lost five of their last six games but could have clinched a play-off spot for the second straight season with a win on Sunday.
The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals last year but are not showing that form in the final weeks of the regular season.
"There's a sense of urgency one game and then we take it off," Wall said.
"To be where we want to be and as far as we did last year, we have to turn it around or we'll be done quick."