James Harden, on Relatively Leisurely Night, Leads Rockets Past Knicks

James Harden had 26 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds in just 29 minutes to lead the host Houston Rockets to a 120-96 win against the Knicks on Friday night.

For Harden, it was not nearly as spectacular as his last game against the Knicks when he tied a career high by scoring 61 points in a 114-110 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23. Harden entered Friday averaging 43 points in his last three games against the Knicks.

With the game largely in hand early, Harden played less than 30 minutes for just the sixth time this season. He entered Friday night second in the league with 37.0 minutes a game.

Houston (52-28) kept the heat on Denver in the battle for the second seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets have two games remaining in the regular season; they host Phoenix on Sunday and visit Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

When asked if he pays close attention to the playoff standings, Chris Paul shook his head.

“Just hooping and worrying about us,” said Paul, who had 11 points and 10 assists.

With Knicks point guard Emmanuel Mudiay sidelined with a sore left shoulder, Mario Hezonja started, posting 16 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. Hezonja’s triple-double was the first for the Knicks since Jan. 11, 2018, when Jarrett Jack had one against Atlanta.

Knicks Coach David Fizdale said of Hezonja, “He did a great job, he organized us, he called the right stuff, he attacked when he needed to attack and did an excellent job on the glass.”

The Knicks were also without Kadeem Allen (concussion), Isaiah Hicks (sore left hip), Dennis Smith Jr. (sore lower back), Allonzo Trier (strained left calf) and Noah Vonleh (sprained right ankle). DeAndre Jordan did not play for a fourth straight game (coach’s decision).

Henry Ellenson had 16 points off the bench for the Knicks, who lost their ninth straight on the road and their eighth of nine over all.

The Rockets held the Knicks to 16 points in the first quarter, a season low for opponents’ first-quarter scoring against Houston. The Rockets led, 32-16, after the first quarter and held a 72-43 lead at halftime.

Winning for the seventh time in their last eight games, the Rockets swept the season series against the Knicks for the 12th time in 14 seasons.

MAGIC PASS NETS Host Orlando had a team-record 81 points in the first half on its way to a 149-113 win against Atlanta that moved the Magic past the Nets and Detroit into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier scored 25 points each for Orlando, which set a season high for points despite having 19 turnovers. The Magic, trying to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, broke a tie with the idle Nets and passed the Pistons, who lost to Oklahoma City, 123-110. Orlando is at 40-40; the Nets and Detroit hold the final two spots at 39-40 each.

Miami (38-41) failed to create a three-way tie for the last two berths, losing by 111-109 at Minnesota. Orlando has two games left, one less than the other three contenders.

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