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Harden scores 31, lead Rockets over Grizzlies

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON - Even the Memphis Grizzlies' stifling defense could not slow the Houston Rockets, whose offense continues to serve as a handful for even the league's top teams when playing from the comforts of home.

Behind another exceptional performance from guard James Harden, the Rockets raced to a 121-96 victory on Saturday night at Toyota Center.

The Rockets (14-12) extended their home winning streak over Memphis to 13 games by posting at least 30 points in each of the first three periods. Harden again showcased remarkable efficiency, scoring 31 points on 13 shots while also recording eight assists and three steals.

"James had a great thrust tonight," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of Harden. "We really wanted to try to make an emphasis on trying to score before Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and their bigs got in the paint, and try not to go against their size all night. They did a nice job of pushing up hard and playing before the Grizzlies really got their defense set."

Harden had plenty of support as seven Rockets reached double figures in points. The Rockets improved to 6-0 when shooting at least 50 percent -- they shot 53.7 percent from the floor -- and sank 10-plus 3-pointers for the 12th time this year, hitting 12 of 28 from behind the arc.

With Memphis playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Rockets ran with impunity, racking up 33 fast-break points to Memphis' three.

"They were tired. They played last night," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. "We wanted to make sure we came in guns blazing and, make or miss, just get the ball out (in transition) and run as fast as we can."

Marcus Morris added 16 points for the Rockets while Lin chipped in 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. Houston center Omer Asik also recorded a double-double by pairing 14 points with 12 rebounds.

Mike Conley led the Grizzlies (18-7) with 16 points and six assists while Gasol and Tony Allen scored 11 apiece. Forward Rudy Gay, Memphis' leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, finished with just six points.

Perhaps foolishly, the Grizzlies attempted to run with the Rockets early; they trailed 33-32 entering the second quarter. But that frenetic pace benefitted the Rockets, who lead the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes. Houston opened a double-digit lead with its 31-point second quarter and upped that margin to 18 points by scoring 30 in the third.

"We tried to play their game and they are obviously better at it than us at playing as that pace," Gasol said. "And they beat us in every aspect of the game."

The Grizzlies entered the night leading the league in average points allowed (89.2 per game) and defensive efficiency (98.0 points surrendered per 100 possessions). Before the Rockets torched their defense, the Grizzlies had allowed 100 points only once, in their season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Halloween at Staples Center.

During their four-game winning streak the Grizzlies had surrendered just 79.8 points per game. Houston had 94 points entering the fourth.

"Well it wasn't much of a game," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "They pretty much handed it to us. They got out and ran and made shots."

NOTES: There is no secret formula behind Memphis' defense. The Grizzlies' willingness to defend both in transition and from the onset of the opposition's half-court set serves as the foundation for their success. "If we're guarding a guy, it's hard to take an early shot," Hollins said. "When you're guarded, you've got to make another pass. And (if) you guard him, he's got to make another pass. Next thing you know, the shot clock is down." ... Randolph and Asik ranked fifth and seventh in total rebound rate at 20.9 and 20.4 percent. McHale sees similarities in their approach to rebounding. "They get in there, they muck around, and they get their hands on a lot of balls," McHale said. "They're both willing to lean on people, hold, push a little bit. That's what you've got to do if you want to hit the offensive glass." Randolph corralled 10 rebounds Saturday night, while Asik grabbed 12, including four on the offensive end.
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