(REUTERS, AFP) - James Harden recorded a 50-point triple-double, and the Houston Rockets fended off the hot-shooting Sacramento Kings for a 119-108 NBA victory on Saturday (March 30) at Toyota Centre.
The 29-year-old guard posted his ninth 50-point game of the season while producing 50 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. With the Rockets clinging to a 101-100 lead midway through the fourth quarter, he sank three free throws, converted back-to-back floaters, and added a three-pointer to extend the advantage to 111-102.
Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and the visiting Toronto Raptors defeated the Chicago Bulls 124-101.
Fred VanVleet also scored 23 points for the Raptors, who have won nine in a row over the Bulls, including all four meetings between the teams this season.
Against the Kings, Harden reached 50 points with two free throws with 48.8 seconds remaining. The 50-point triple-double was the fifth of his career.
Clint Capela added 24 points and 15 rebounds while Chris Paul chipped in 22 points and five assists for the Rockets. The Kings were officially eliminated from play-off contention after going 0 for 5 from behind the arc in the fourth quarter. The Kings entered the period 15 of 24 on treys.
Bogdan Bogdanovic paced the Kings with 24 points off the bench while Buddy Hield added 21 points and De'Aaron Fox paired 18 points with 10 assists.
Rookie Marvin Bagley III also posted a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The early showcase from Harden was certainly MVP-calibre. With the Kings leading 15-14 midway through the first period, Harden fed a rolling Capela for a dunk before drilling a three and converting three free throws after getting fouled by Fox behind the arc. Harden then fed Capela for an alley-oop dunk, closing the opening period with 17 points and four assists.
But the Kings erased a 10-point deficit with a prolific perimeter display. In climbing out of a 27-17 hole, Sacramento strung together eight three-pointers and two three-point plays, with Bogdanovic drilling four of those treys. That surge enabled the Kings to snag a 51-41 lead by the 8:02 mark of the second quarter, and the Rockets needed Harden to pull them back from the depths.
Harden tallied 10 consecutive points for Houston, flipping a five-point deficit into a 58-53 lead with 3:02 left in the half. He added a lay-up to push the lead to 63-60 at the break, a modest margin as Bogdanovic, Fox and Hield shot a combined 10 of 12 on 3s in the half.
Harden closed the half with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Raptors and the Bulls were meeting for the second time in five days.
Marc Gasol finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Toronto. Norman Powell had 15 points, Jodie Meeks chipped in with 14 points, Jeremy Lin had 12 and Kyle Lowry had 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 18 points and added 10 rebounds for the Bulls. Walter Lemon Jr notched 19 points, Shaquille Harrison scored 15 and Antonio Blakeney contributed 12 points.
The Raptors led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter as they gained control in the second quarter and took an 18-point advantage into the fourth quarter. Ibaka's three-pointer bumped the Toronto lead back to 20 points with 7:55 to go and Powell's three-pointer stretched it to 25 with 1:14 to play.
Elsewhere in the East, the battle rages for the last three play-off berths.
The sixth-placed Detroit helped their cause by ending Portland's six-game winning streak. Reggie Jackson scored 28 points and Andre Drummond added 22 with 19 rebounds as the Pistons overcame the absence of Blake Griffin, who was a late scratch with a sore left knee.
'Every game means something'
The Pistons remained half a game ahead of the seventh placed Brooklyn Nets, who beat the playoff-bound Boston Celtics 110-96. D'Angelo Russell scored 20 of his 29 points in the third quarter, as the Nets broke open a close game and ended a two-game skid.
The Miami Heat kept their tenuous hold on the eighth and final Eastern berth with a 100-92 victory over the Knicks in New York. Dion Waiters led Miami with a season-high 28 points, while Goran Dragic added 10 points and 10 assists.
"We understand, obviously, every game it means something in the standings of the playoff push," Heat veteran Dwyane Wade said before the game.
But the Heat trailed 33-29 after the first quarter and 61-55 at half-time. Tied at 79-79 heading into the fourth, the Heat opened the final frame with an 8-0 scoring run and finally pulled away from the last-placed Knicks.
But the Orlando Magic are still snapping at the Heat's heels, downing the Indiana Pacers 121-116 to stay in touch. Aaron Gordon scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Nikola Vucevic added 19 points as the Magic rebounded from Thursday's loss to Detroit.