James Harden scored 24 points on Sunday to help the Houston Rockets defeat the Washington Wizards 99-91 at the Verizon Center.
Harden added three rebounds, six assists and two steals to another impressive all-round performance, but it was Josh Smith who carried the visitors early on while Dwight Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes on the court.
The Rockets center continues to be monitored carefully after returning from injury this week, and he remains on a minutes restriction ahead of the post-season.
Houston were in control for the majority of the game although both teams did start slowly despite the high hopes of analyst Jeff Van Gundy who discussed Harden’s season so far prior to tip-off with an eye-catching impression of the bearded star.
Nevertheless, 25 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists from Wizards star point guard John Wall were not enough to guide the hosts to a win which would have secured their playoff spot.
Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni made the victory safe in the fourth quarter with key shots as well as defensive plays, and so coach Kevin McHale will have generally been satisfied with the performance his players produced.
In contrast, Washington slip to 41-33 for the season as their bad run of form drags on, while the Rockets reached the 50-win mark and continue to suggest that they will be a real threat to their rivals in the playoffs.