HOUSTON • Chris Paul and James Harden came alive late to help the Houston Rockets erase a 13-point, third-quarter deficit and defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 130-123 in the National Basketball Association (NBA) on Monday.
Houston stayed on top of the Western Conference standings following their 10th straight win, ahead of NBA champions Golden State Warriors, who beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-104.
Harden scored 26 points - 12 of them in the fourth quarter - while also notching a career-high 17 assists at the Toyota Center.
Paul also left his scoring late, with 16 of 20 points in the fourth.
The Rockets (21-4) have improved to 11-0 with Paul in their line-up. He had been out since the Oct 17 season opener with a bruised left knee, and returned only on Nov 16.
Harden later revealed that he had urged Paul to raise the tempo in the fourth quarter.
"I told him to be aggressive. He was passive throughout the entire game," said the guard. "I told him, 'Be aggressive, take your shots'.
"He made some big threes, got to the basket a couple times, and gave us some momentum offensively. And then defensively we got stops."
Career high assists for Houston's James Harden.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni was pleased with his star duo, in particular Harden.
"James (was) running out of gas in the first half, and then his leg was hurting him and all that," he told ESPN after the game.
"But then at the end he just puts daggers in people."
Despite Harden's pain before the interval, his 14 assists in the first half tied a franchise record for assists in a half. He achieved the same feat last year as did John Lucas on Oct 27, 1977.
Houston also got a career-high 28 points from Clint Capela and 27 points from Eric Gordon.
New Orleans (14-14) were without talisman Anthony Davis, struggling with a left adductor strain, and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was left impressed by the Rockets.
"You can see why they have the best record in the league," Gentry said of the Rockets.
"I thought we did everything we had to do to try and put ourselves in a position to try to win it."
Jrue Holiday poured in a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans, and E'Twaun Moore scored a career-high 36 points. DeMarcus Cousins posted 24 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, and Rajon Rondo had a triple-double (13 points, 12 boards, 12 assists).
In Chicago, the Bulls won their third consecutive game with a 108-85 victory over Eastern Conference leaders Boston Celtics (23-6).
Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis provided proof that their violent altercation in October had been forgotten, with Mirotic scoring 24 points in his first start of the season, and Portis scoring 23 points.
David Nwaba finished with 13 points for the Bulls (6-20), who have not lost since snapping a 10-game losing streak last Friday with an overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Kris Dunn added 12 points for Chicago.
The Celtics played without Kyrie Irving, who sat out owing to a left quadriceps contusion.
Al Horford scored 15 points, and Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier each contributed 13 points for Boston.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE