Harden's return sparks Rockets past WizardsBy The Sports Xchange | The SportsXchange – Wed, Dec 12, 2012 11:40 PM EST
HOUSTON -- Rockets guard James Harden returned from a one-game injury hiatus and provided the Houston Rockets with a scoring punch that, considering the opponent, few anticipated would be so sorely needed. With the lowly Washington Wizards refusing to relent on the heels of their first road win, Tuesday night in New Orleans, the Rockets struggled before pulling out an unsightly 99-93 win Wednesday night at Toyota Center. Harden paced Houston with 31 points after being sidelined Monday due to a sprained right ankle. The Rockets maintained their breakneck pace against the San Antonio Spurs even without Harden, eventually falling in overtime. Their offense was less efficient against Washington. "That's the kind of typical James game where he just makes plays and attacks," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We had some things going where we had some drops on some passes back to our bigs, and our bigs have got to go in there and finish strong, get fouled and make some plays around the rim." The Rockets (10-11) built a 10-point lead at the close of the first quarter, but they surrendered that advantage thanks to nine second-quarter turnovers. Houston went on a 15-2 run in the third quarter, but the Wizards (3-16) answered with a 10-0 burst late in the period. It took Harden converting a three-point play at the 6:13 mark of the fourth before the Rockets established an 83-75, a workable margin to buoy them down the stretch. "He is a top-notch player," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Harden. "Any time you add a player like that to your team, he's going to make you better. He's a hard cover." Whereas Houston relied on Harden to carry the scoring load, the Wizards countered with offensive balance. Five Washington players scored between 13 and 20 points, including forward Nene, who had 13 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. Washington's Jordan Crawford, transitioning to point guard with John Wall sidelined by a stress injury in his left patella, had 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. His backcourt mate, rookie Bradley Beal, added 20 points and six assists. Emeka Okafor and Martell Webster scored 19 and 16, respectively, for the Wizards, who are in the midst of playing four games in five nights. "I am figuring things out game by game," Crawford said. "The more opportunity I get, the more comfortable I feel on the court." Two nights after matching his career high of 38 points, Rockets guard Jeremy Lin scored just 10 and appeared timid searching for his shot. Center Omer Asik was the lone Houston starter who failed to reach double digits in points, as he finished with nine points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Rockets forward Chandler Parsons posted 18 points and eight boards, nailing both of his 3-point shot attempts in the decisive fourth quarter. "Our overall first half was very sloppy; we turned the ball over way too many times," Parsons said. "Our defense wasn't great. We were just doing a lot of the little things that add up to us losing. We kept them hanging around. They're an NBA team; they're capable of winning games. They won last night on the road. "We definitely didn't take them lightly, but we could have brought a lot more." NOTES: The Rockets entered play Wednesday night fourth in the NBA in free-throw-rate differential (free throws attempted/field goals attempted), trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves. It helps that Harden is fourth in the league in free throws attempted with 179, but the Rockets' aim is to attempt a minimum of 25 free throws per game. "There are always times where you can attack more, but we do a pretty good job at that," McHale said. "When you're drawing and kicking and attacking, you are going to get to the line." ... Following an 0-8 road start, the Wizards notched their first victory away from Verizon Center with a 77-70 triumph over the Hornets in New Orleans on Tuesday night. "Winning on the road is always nice in the NBA," Wittman said. "That being our first win on the road, it was good. The guys felt good about it." ... The Rockets were averaging 119 points per game in their six home games preceding their victory over Washington.
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