LOS ANGELES • Even with National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player front runner James Harden sidelined, the Houston Rockets had no problems in their 105-82 cruise control victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at American Airlines Centre.
Guards Chris Paul and Eric Gordon shouldered the scoring load while Harden rested his sore left knee, and the pair produced a shooting clinic, combining for 50 points and 10 three-pointers with the Rockets joining the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics in clinching a play-off berth.
Paul added 12 assists as the Rockets recovered from a setback at Toronto on Friday night that ended their 17-game winning streak, five short of a franchise record.
The Rockets improved their league-best record to 52-14, 11/2 games ahead of defending champions Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.
Gordon said the Rockets would step on the accelerator in a bid to claim the top seeding in the West.
"We want to finish No. 1 - I think that's the main goal," he added.
And the Rockets' bid to claim top dog status received a boost after the depleted Warriors (51-16) fell to their second straight defeat in a 103-109 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
With Stephen Curry missing his second game in a row with a sprained right ankle, Kevin Durant scored 39 points for Golden State, who lost back-to-back games for only the second time this season.
"We're just in a bit of a tough stretch," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
"I'm really pleased with the effort. We'll get some guys back here hopefully in the next week or two, and I'm very confident with where we're heading."
In Los Angeles, the Cleveland Cavaliers endured a 113-127 loss to the Lakers with point guard Isaiah Thomas, acquired from Cleveland in a deadline-day trade deal, scoring 20 points. The Cavs lost for the fourth time in six games despite 24 points from LeBron James.
The Lakers - who have money to spend under the salary cap - offered James a glimpse of the young talent he could align himself with should he opt to move to Los Angeles as a free agent next season.
The Cavs (38-28) are fourth in the Eastern Conference, 1/2 game behind third-placed Indiana Pacers, who edged out second-placed Boston Celtics 99-97.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS