HOUSTON -- Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni almost sensed the potential for something unseemly before the tipoff, wondering aloud what might come after he gave his team two days off following their home victory on Monday night.
Trailing by virtue of their own issues with ball security, the Houston Rockets rallied for a 117-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night at Toyota Center behind another scintillating showcase from All-Star guard James Harden.
Harden paired 38 points with a career-high-tying 17 assists and played integral roles in a pair of 3-pointers that broke the Pelicans in the fourth quarter. Harden drilled a 3 with 69 seconds left to extend the lead to eight points before assisting on a corner trey by Patrick Beverley that gave Houston its lone double-digit lead.
The Rockets (50-22) committed a whopping 16 first-half turnovers, a byproduct of their brief layoff. With their game settled and their angst wrangled, they were guilty of just three turnovers in the second half and tallied 68 points post break.
"I thought in the first half we had two days off and it showed," D'Antoni said. "I thought that we tried things that were uncharacteristic. We were trying to drive and post up and shot the 2s, and we were sped up just because I think their energy and they were trying to play. But we buckled down in the second half."
The Pelicans (30-42) engaged in a spirited back-and-forth in an attempt to extend their three-game winning streak, succumbing only after the Rockets sank 7 of 12 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Beverley hit three 3s in the final period while Eric Gordon sank two to help the Rockets shake free.
"In the first half we were sloppy with the basketball," Harden said. "We tightened that up and we got stops when we needed to. We scored when we needed to and we put the game away."
Beverley scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth while Gordon added 14 points, five rebounds and four assists off the bench. Six Rockets scored in double figures and Houston needed that production to counter the Pelicans' tandem of Anthony Davis (33 points, 16 rebounds) and DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 5 of 9 on treys).
"I thought we played well but once again you're playing against a great team with a great player, arguably the MVP of the league," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Harden. "He made plays down the stretch and we weren't able to make them, and that's what it came down to."
Fueled by the Rockets' avalanche of turnovers, the Pelicans erased an early eight-point deficit with a 17-2 run. Cousins was the catalyst with two 3-pointers and a three-point play, and when he sank a trey through a foul and added the subsequent free throw, the Pelicans led 25-18. Suddenly, Harden got going.
Harden closed the first period with eight consecutive points after opening it with four quick assists. He returned from the bench midway through the second quarter and added a pair of free throws and a step-back jumper to cut the deficit to 46-45 and later lifted Houston to the lead in the third before Davis went wild.
With Houston leading 62-59, Davis scored 17 consecutive points for the Pelicans, dragging them to a 76-74 lead before Harden answered with a 3 that put the Rockets back in front. Davis posted 19 points and four rebounds in the period. When Cousins added 15 points in the fourth, it was just enough to keep it close.
"We're not up because we hung with the team," Cousins said. "We feel we have the ability to beat any team, and it's just how we go out and play.
"I don't think we're up for hanging around. We think a little more highly of ourselves than that."
NOTES: With their 14 3-pointers, the Rockets increased their season total to 1,050 and closed to within 28 of surpassing the NBA record of 1,077 set by the Golden State Warriors last season. ... Rockets G James Harden recorded his fourth consecutive 30-point, 10-assist game, the longest such streak in the NBA since Bulls G Michael Jordan did so in five consecutive games from April 4-12, 1989. Harden has three four-game streaks this season. ... Pelicans G Tim Frazier made his third consecutive start and finished with three assists against one turnover. Over his last seven games, Frazier owns a 34-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio.