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James Harden scores 40 in Houston Rockets' blowout win

By MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange
James Harden scores 40 in Houston Rockets' blowout win
James Harden of the Houston Rockets is interviewed by journalists during a team practice at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China, 11 October 2016. EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA

HOUSTON -- With the short-handed Phoenix Suns having arrived roughly 16 hours before tipoff and on the heels of a Friday night game, the Houston Rockets had one pressing objective: jump on their weary opponent and don't let them back up for air.

James Harden produced his league-leading ninth 40-point game and the Rockets turned an offensive surge from the opening tip into a 133-102 dismantling of the Suns on Saturday night at Toyota Center.

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Despite suffering an ankle injury that delayed his return in the second quarter, Harden delivered 40 points, six rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The last Rockets player to score at least 40 points in fewer than 30 minutes was Sleepy Floyd, who had 40 points in 24 minutes on Feb. 26, 1991, in Denver.

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Patrick Beverley added 19 points and 10 rebounds and teamed with Harden to make 12 of 19 shots from behind the arc. Houston finished 18 of 36 on 3-pointers and improved to 16-1 when shooting better than 40 percent from deep.

"Our pace was really good the first two quarters," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That comes from everybody being a little fresher. Just some good stuff."

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Houston (40-17) extended its winning streak to four games while shooting 49.1 from the field. The Rockets led by as many as 40 points, scoring 20 points in transition and 27 after offensive rebounds. They improved to 3-0 against Phoenix this season.

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The Suns (17-38) lost for the ninth time in 11 games. Phoenix surrendered a 13-0 run to open the game and, trailing 77-53 at the intermission, allowed the first nine points of the second half before Devin Booker sank a technical free throw.

The Suns did not made a second-half field goal until Brandon Knight scored on a breakaway dunk with 8:17 remaining in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 91-56.

"There are no excuses in this league and we know in the NBA you have tough games like this sometimes," Suns coach Earl Watson said. "Even though we got in at four in the morning you still have to come and compete."

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Booker scored a team-high 18 points and Phoenix forward T.J. Warren added 14 points. Center Alex Len had 13 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.

"This is one of those games where you just have to flush it," Booker said. "A loss is a loss, if it's by two points or by 40. We have to keep going and move on from this.

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"And we have two games coming up with the (New Orleans) Pelicans and (Los Angeles) Lakers before the All-Star break. Hopefully, we can go into the All-Star break on a positive note."

Booker snapped the Rockets' 13-0 opening kick with a three-point play with 8:46 left in the first quarter only for Houston to follow with an 8-0 spurt that pushed the lead to 21-3.

The Rockets led by as many as 24 points in the first quarter before Suns forward Jared Dudley (12 points) emerged from the bench with 10 points to help cut the deficit to 38-24 entering the second quarter.

The Rockets were undaunted even with Harden in the locker room, reclaiming their 24-point cushion before Harden returned with 5:13 left and drilled back-to-back 3-pointers that pushed the advantage to 67-41 with 4:07 left in the half.

The Rockets' 77 first-half points represented a season high. After scoring at least 130 points six times combined the previous three seasons, Houston reached 130 points for the eighth time this season, including twice against the Suns.

"We've found a rhythm," Harden said. "It may look like we're struggling because guys are missing shots, but no matter what we're going to still shoot them and that's what it is. We're going to continue to attack and attack for four quarters."

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NOTES: Suns G Eric Bledsoe (rest) missed his first game of the season. After enjoying an outstanding January with averages of 24.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists, Bledsoe has hit a physical wall, according to Suns coach Earl Watson. Phoenix has two additional games remaining before the NBA All-Star Game break. ... Rockets G Eric Gordon missed a second consecutive game with back soreness. Coach Mike D'Antoni described Gordon as "close" to returning and anticipates that Gordon will be available on Wednesday against the Miami Heat. ... With C Tyson Chandler (ankle/rest) and F Dragan Bender (right ankle surgery) not with the team, the Suns utilized a frontcourt rotation of Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Alan Williams. Len served a one-game suspension on Friday night against the Chicago Bulls.

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