LOS ANGELES • With key star Kawhi Leonard sidelined with injury, "Houston, we have a problem" has been the distress call of the San Antonio Spurs this season.
And their freefall in the National Basketball Association (NBA) has been exacerbated by the form of their state rivals, as the Houston Rockets tightened their grip on first place in the Western Conference on Monday with a 109-93 win over their injury-ravaged opponents.
Another inspirational display from Most Valuable Player front runner James Harden included 28 points, six rebounds and six assists, as the Rockets delighted their home fans to improve to 53-14 at the top of the standings.
They have a two-game advantage over champions Golden State Warriors as the play-offs loom, meaning Houston are in pole position to retain home advantage throughout the post-season.
Harden was backed by 18 points from Chris Paul, who had nine assists and three rebounds while Trevor Ariza added 15 points, with big man Clint Capela scoring 13.
San Antonio struggled without Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobli, and they failed to impose themselves on the home defence. Leonard may return against the New Orleans Pelicans tomorrow.
Bryn Forbes and Derrick White led the scoring off the Spurs bench with 14 points each, while Rudy Gay chipped in with 13 points.
The loss saw San Antonio (37-30) fall outside the West play-off positions to 10th and their chances of extending an NBA record of 18 straight campaigns with at least 50 victories looks to be all but over with 15 games to go.
The Spurs are tied for games won and lost with the Utah Jazz (8th) and Denver Nuggets (9th). But their poorer head-to-head record puts them at risk of missing the play-offs for the first time since 1997.
In Oklahoma, Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his 99th career triple-double as the Oklahoma City Thunder registered a 106-101 home win over the Sacramento Kings.
Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107) are the only members of the century club.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS