Los Angeles, United States – James Harden scored 38 points to led the Houston Rockets to a 112-85 victory over the Denver Nuggets in a battle of NBA Western Conference contenders on Thursday.
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Harden added six rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes on the floor as the Rockets blew past a Nuggets team boasting the second-best record in the West behind the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
“I think it’s important for our confidence, our rhythm, our chemistry,” said Rockets center Clint Capela, who added 17 points with 15 rebounds. “We did a good job tonight to keep them under 25 points a quarter.
Eric Gordon added 18 points and Austin Rivers chipped in 15 for the Rockets, who out-scored the Nuggets 40-19 in the second quarter to seize control of the contest.
Elsewhere, the Utah Jazz’s playoff berth was confirmed thanks to the Sacramento Kings’ 121-118 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The playoff-bound Toronto Raptors encountered little resistance from the Knicks in a 117-92 victory in New York.
Forward Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 31 points as Toronto improved to 53-23 – second in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks who improved to 57-19 with a 128-118 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
But the Bucks got a jolt as MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo hit the floor and grabbed his right ankle after a fourth-quarter dunk.
Antetokounmpo, who scored 34 points, departed the contest. He missed two games last week after spraining the same ankle in a game against Philadelphia, but said he wants to try to play through into the playoffs.
“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing.”
The Philadelphia 76ers strengthened their hold on the third seed in the East with a 123-110 victory over Brooklyn that saw the Nets slip a notch to seventh — the penultimate playoff spot.
Joel Embiid scored 39 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and handed out six assists, making three of his four attempts from three-point range.
The Detroit Pistons found themselves in sixth in the East after a valuable 115-98 victory over the Orlando Magic – who dropped out of a playoff spot into ninth place with the defeat coupled with the Miami Heat’s 105-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat, coming off a loss to Orlando on Tuesday, got themselves back in playoff position at No. 8 with a 105-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Goran Dragic marked his return to Miami’s starting lineup with a triple-double of 23 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds.
It was the Slovenian guard’s first triple-double with the Heat and his first since he was with the Houston Rockets in 2010-11.
It gave him bragging rights over the Mavericks’ Slovenian rookie sensation Luka Doncic, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
It was a first NBA clash between the two players who teamed up to lead Slovenia to the 2017 Euro Basket title.