By PETER FINNEY JR., Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — James Harden is on a run the NBA hasn’t seen since Oscar Robertson.
Harden had 41 points and six assists to become the first player since the Hall of Fame guard to record at least 35 points and five assists in seven consecutive games, and the Houston Rockets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 108-104 on Saturday night.
“That’s what I play for,” Harden said when asked about being compared to the Big O. “That’s what you play the game of basketball for, to be mentioned in the name with the greats. Obviously, I have a long way to go, but that’s what I put my jersey on for, that’s what I lace my shoes up for, to go out there and be the best that I can be and when it’s all said and done, be mentioned as one of the best basketball players to ever touch a basketball.”
Harden had 26 points in the first half and reached 40 for the third straight game. He was 7 for 16 from 3-point range and made all 14 free throws. He regularly juked Pelican defenders off their feet to draw fouls, including two fouls from behind the arc for another easy six points.
“I’ve said it a thousand times — and I don’t think I’m wrong because I get to watch it every night — but you don’t get better than what he does offensively,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “No one’s better. Then he’s also coming up with steals and rebounds. I mean, he does a lot. I think people sometimes are just trying to look to find holes in his game — and I think everybody has a little something. He doesn’t make every shot.”
Anthony Davis looked sluggish a night after scoring a season-high 48 points in a victory over Dallas, taking only five shots in the first half and finishing with 22 points. Julius Randle led the Pelicans with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Houston led 77-76 after three and scored the first seven points of the fourth period, five coming from Danuel House Jr. on a reverse layup and an open 3-pointer. The Rockets extended their lead to 101-86 with 5:57 left, but the Pelicans went on a 13-2 run, with Davis scoring six, to cut the deficit to 103-99.
With the Rockets leading 104-101 with 12.6 seconds left, P.J. Tucker, a 56 percent free throw shooter, made both foul shots to ice the victory.
Harden torched the Pelicans for 17 points in the first quarter and added nine more in the second as Houston took a 53-50 halftime lead. Harden’s 26 first-half points were more than half of the Rockets’ scoring. The next closest teammate in scoring was Austin Rivers with eight.
“I thought we did a really good job defensively,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We say that, and Harden gets (41), but that doesn’t bother us because we knew that that was a possibility. I thought we did a good job everywhere else, but we just didn’t quite get over the hump with making a few plays down the stretch.”
Rockets: G Eric Gordon, who scored 21, including 16 in the second half, limped through the fourth quarter with a sore right knee. “I’ll know more tomorrow,” Gordon said. . D’Antoni said Harden’s extra workout regimen is paying dividends nearly halfway through the grind of the regular season. “It doesn’t wear him out, it gives him energy,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously, it’s paying off.” … C Clint Capela has averaged 15.0 rebounds in the last nine games.
Pelicans: F Darius Miller, held scoreless in a Friday night victory over Dallas, missed the game due to an illness. Solomon Hill started in his place. … Gentry called Harden “the best ‘iso’ player in the world. I don’t know if anybody is better in the history of this league, really, as far as drawing fouls and making plays in ‘iso’ situations..” … Despite three separate losing streaks of four, five and six games, Gentry says his players have not “lost faith that we’re going to be a good team.”
Rockets: Host Memphis on Monday night.
Pelicans: Close a three-game homestand on Monday night against Minnesota.