Houston first for hot Harden amid MVP talk

Rockets guard James Harden driving to the basket for a lay-up against the Hornets during the second quarter at Toyota Centre. His assist and two lay-ups right at the end were crucial after Charlotte had edged ahead.
Rockets guard James Harden driving to the basket for a lay-up against the Hornets during the second quarter at Toyota Centre. His assist and two lay-ups right at the end were crucial after Charlotte had edged ahead.PHOTO: REUTERS

He earns another 40pt triple-double as Rockets blast past Hornets; Cavs fall to Jazz

HOUSTON • Houston Rockets star James Harden played down talk of being this season's National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP), after his latest high-scoring triple-double on Tuesday at the Toyota Centre.

The 27-year-old guard, one of several players excelling in a high-scoring season across the league, finished with 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, as Houston defeated the Charlotte Hornets 121-114.

The Rockets talisman came to Houston's rescue after Charlotte staged a dramatic fourth-quarter fightback to take a shock lead.

Houston appeared to be cruising to victory, after Corey Brewer's three-pointer gave them a 108-90 lead with around eight minutes left. But Charlotte responded with a 21-2 rally which featured four consecutive three-pointers, as the Hornets edged into a 111-110 advantage with just over two minutes to go.

Harden steadied the ship, however, with an assist for Ryan Anderson's three-pointer before adding two lay-ups to settle Houston's nerves.

Harden's late intervention to secure the game capped another performance likely to ensure he remains firmly in the conversation for NBA MVP. However, he said he is not thinking about personal glory as he spearheads Houston's drive towards the post-season.

"As long as I play the right way and be unselfish and we win games, all of that is going to come," he said of the MVP speculation after recording his 11th triple-double of the season. "I don't really put too much into that or think about it too much. If it happens, it happens. The most important thing is winning."

While he produced his second consecutive 40-point triple-double, he had plenty of support. Brewer scored a season-high 15 points, while forward Trevor Ariza added 16 points.

Centre Montrezl Harrell added 14 points on five-for-five shooting and Anderson had 13, as the Rockets improved to 31-9.

Hornets guard Kemba Walker scored a team-high 25 points with 10 assists and six rebounds, while centre Frank Kaminsky (22 points) was one of three Charlotte reserves to reach double figures in points.

Spencer Hawes scored 16 points in 25 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter, while Marco Belinelli added 15 points.

Charlotte (20-19) hit 19 three-pointers but still lost.

"We tried everything in our power trying to get a win," Walker said. "That's a really good team and we're at their house and it was really tough. We played as hard as we could but we just fell short."

In Salt Lake City, LeBron James scored a game-high 29 points but it was not enough to prevent the NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers slipping to defeat against the Utah Jazz.

Cleveland, who fell to 28-9, were undone by an all-round scoring display from Utah (24-16), led by Gordon Hayward with 29 points and Rodney Hood (18 points).

No fewer than six Jazz players finished with double figures on the night.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'Houston first for hot Harden amid MVP talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe