Harden's 26 points lead Rockets over Heat 115-102
HOUSTON (AP) James Harden has long been known as a great scorer.
Lately. Houston's star has been shining as a facilitator, too.
Harden scored 26 points and tied a career-high with 14 assists as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid with a 115-102 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
It was the second time in eight games that Harden has had 14 assists and he's had 10 or more in two other games in that stretch.
''He plays the game beautifully,'' coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''His skillset I think is underappreciated by a lot of people. People see the scoring, scoring, scoring, but they don't see that he makes plays for his teammates. They don't see the passes he makes time and time again.''
Harden knows that it makes the Rockets much better when he's able to get other people involved on offense.
''It means the defense has pressure on them,'' Harden said. ''Guys are making shot, guys are getting into a rhythm, getting comfortable and it's easier for me.''
Houston had a double-digit lead for most of the second half and was up by 10 when Josh Smith scored all of the team's points in a 7-2 run that pushed the advantage to 104-89 with about five minutes remaining.
The Rockets started Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, at center with Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official this weekend and Clint Capela out with a thigh injury.
Smith scored a season-high 19 points in his second start this season and first since returning to Houston in a trade from the Clippers on Jan. 22.
He thinks the key to Tuesday's win was the team's defense.
''The defense has to be the cornerstone of what we do each and every night,'' he said. ''I think if we (assert) ourselves on the defensive end it will spark our offense.''
Luol Deng had 17 points for the Heat whose season-high four game winning streak ended.
''Houston clearly deserved to win this game,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''They brought the necessary disposition. They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half.''
The Rockets were up by seven entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period to make it 93-80 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining.
A 3-pointer by Harden with just over three minutes remaining made it 110-93 and sent all Houston's starters to the bench.
Houston led by 14 early in the third quarter before Miami used a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 74-72 with about five minutes left in the period. Dwyane Wade made four points in the span and the Heat made three consecutive 3-pointers to cap that run with two from Deng and one from Justise Winslow.
The Rockets got back on track after that, using a 9-2 spurt to extend the lead to 83-74 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
Patrick Beverley and Marcus Thornton made 3s to get that run going and Terrence Jones finished it with a dunk after a no-look bounce pass from Harden.
The Rockets scored the final five points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half to turn a tie game into a 68-55 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Trevor Ariza started the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer and Smith scored the next five points.
Deng made a basket for the Heat before Smith sunk another 3-pointer to push Houston's advantage to 71-57.
Harden made the last five points of the second quarter to give Houston a 60-55 lead at halftime.
Wade on Miami's 17 turnovers: ''I think early on we just weren't mentally sharp. We came out and were losing the ball ... and with a team like this who feeds off that you have to be very sharp and tight with the ball.''
Winslow, who was born and grew up in Houston before playing at Duke, was excited to play his first regular-season NBA game in the city. He had 11 points and eight rebounds in his return.
''It was cool to be back,'' he said. ''I always dreamed about playing in this arena. I came here growing up to see a bunch of Rockets games. It was a familiar atmosphere to play in.''
Heat: G Tyler Johnson missed his third straight game with a strained left shoulder. ... Wade scored 16 points. ... Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Rockets: Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating after Saturday's game against Washington. ... Rookie F Montrezl Harrell sat out with an illness. ...Thornton scored 18 points.
Heat: Visit Dallas on Wednesday.
Rockets: Visit Phoenix on Thursday.