Harden returns to lead Houston past Spurs

The Sports XchangeDecember 26, 2013 

Houston Rockets guard James Harden celebrates during Wednesday’s 111-98 win over the Spurs in San Antonio.

BRENDAN MALONEY/USA TODAY SPORTS

SAN ANTONIO — There is something good that happens when Houston Rockets guard James Harden plays against the San Antonio Spurs. On Wednesday, that something good happened in the fourth quarter.

Harden returned to the starting lineup to score 28 points, 16 in the final period, to lead the Rockets to a 111-98 win over the Spurs.

Harden, who missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle, averaged 30.5 points and six assists in the four most recent contests against San Antonio. He was 11-of-16 shooting in 31 minutes.

“I don’t know, I guess I like this arena,” Harden jokingly said when asked why he plays so well against the Spurs. “No, my teammates do a great job of putting me in positions to be successful and score the basketball. Our offense is structured for everybody to score, and guys did a great job tonight.”

All five starters were in double figures including forward Terrence Jones 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets (19-11), who never trailed. Center Dwight Howard had 15 points and 20 rebounds for this 20th double-double this season.

“Our guys played with a lot of fire and a lot of togetherness,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We moved the ball well. Guys shared it. Our big guys had 35 points and 34 rebounds between the two of them. That’s huge.”

Guard Manu Ginobili led the Spurs (22-7) with 22 points. Forward Kawhi Leonard added 13, while forward Tim Duncan had 11 points and 14 rebounds.

San Antonio’s leading scorer, guard Tony Parker, had six points on 3-of-11 shooting.

By the time the first 12 minutes lapsed, Houston had 40 points on the board.

“That first quarter was embarrassing,” Ginobili said.

NBA: ROCKETS 111, SPURS 98

SLAM DUNKS

Kobe thought doc was joking: The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant held a press conference before Wednesday’s loss to the Heat. It was the first time he has met with the local media since suffering a fractured left knee Dec. 17 at Memphis. “I was really expecting a bone bruise more than anything else,” Bryant said when he learned of the diagnosis. “I actually thought (the doctor) was joking.” Bryant, who is expected to miss least six weeks, said he expects to return before the end of the season.

Making noise: The Oklahoma City Thunder has the NBA’s third-best defense, averaging 105.7 points per game. Their plus-7.1 differential this season is fourth-best in the league.

Is New York sleeping? Despite having the league’s second-leading scorer in forward Carmelo Anthony (26.3 ppg, behind Thunder forward Kevin Durant’s 28.1 points), the New York Knicks’ offense is sixth-worst in the league in scoring at 95 points per game.

McClatchy news services

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