James Harden

The Houston Rockets continue their resting strategy for Dwight Howard, but it didn’t stop them from beating the Charlotte Hornets 100-90, led by James Harden of course, in their attempt to finish second in a very tight race.

It’s still a four-team thing, but the Grizzlies have now slipped back after losing to the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets, Spurs and Clippers are all at 55-26 but the Spurs have the seed advantage because they’re about to win their division, leaving the Rockets and Grizzlies behind. The Clippers have already lost the chance to win their division.

And about the game? It’s hard to hide how much the Hornets don’t care about anything that happens in this season anymore. Playing without a long list of key players including Al Jefferson, Mo Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they got almost nothing from their two guards, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, shooting a combined 3-of-20 from the field.

Harden led the Rockets with 29 points although it was a rough shooting night for him as well, making only 7-of-20 shots from the field, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. Like on many rough days for him, he made it up by going to the line again and again, making 14-of-16 shots. The game also took him back a bit in the scoring title race, but he has a chance of finishing above Russell Westbrook, who leads by half a point.

Besides Harden, the Rockets had six other players scoring in double figures. Josh Smith continues to be in very good scoring shape, adding 16 points off the bench. Having a player who until not too long ago was an All-Star caliber guy coming off the bench and giving 25-30 minutes a night at two positions is a huge advantage to have.

This wasn’t a very good or special performance from the Rockets, but it got the job done, courtesy of an opponent that wasn’t going to do a whole of a lot to try and stop them from getting the win. It was a fifth consecutive loss for Charlotte, hoping that the failure to repeat as a playoff team like in 2010 doesn’t result in another three-year drought.

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