NEW ORLEANS — James Harden scored 28 points in a little less than 29 minutes, and the Houston Rockets downed the New Orleans Pelicans 113-90 on Sunday night.
Chris Paul had 10 points and 13 assists, and Eric Gordon added 18 points for the Rockets, who hit 21 3s in winning for the fifth time in six games to move a game ahead of Portland for the third seed in the Western Conference.
Anthony Davis had 12 points and 10 rebounds in just less than 21 minutes for the short-handed Pelicans, who lost for the eighth time in nine games. Frank Jackson scored 19 and Julius Randle 15 for New Orleans, which fell behind by double digits early and struggled throughout to keep pace with a contending Rockets squad trying to sharpen up for the postseason.
The Rockets clinched a playoff spot for the seventh season in a row, a franchise record.
Houston connected on seven 3s in the first quarter alone and the Rockets' lead surpassed 20 points when a driving layup by former New Orleans first-round draft pick Austin Rivers made it 43-22 less than three minutes into the second quarter.
New Orleans trimmed its deficit back to 16 late in the period, only to watch Harden hit his fifth 3 and score his 21st point seconds before halftime, giving the Rockets a 63-44 lead.
The Pelicans briefly got as close as 14 points on Randle's layup early in the third quarter, but Gordon came back with a 3 and Harden added a driving floater and another 3 during an 8-0 run that pushed the lead back above 20.
Houston led by as many as 28 before it was over.
Rockets: Kenneth Faried had 11 points and 11 rebounds. ... Gordon checked out less than two minutes into the opening period, appearing to favor his right ankle. He returned with 6:51 to go in the first quarter and wound up playing 21 minutes. ... Six Rockets players scored at least 10 points, including Danuel House Jr. with 14 and P.J. Tucker with 11. ... Houston outrebounded New Orleans 51-44 and shot 48.8 percent (42 of 86). More than half of the Rockets' field goals (49) were taken from 3-point range, and they scored just 36 of their points in the paint.
Pelicans: Guard Jrue Holiday missed his eighth straight game with a strained abdomen. The Pelicans have seven games remaining. ... Guard E'Twaun Moore, who has a bruised left quadriceps, also missed his eighth straight game. ... New Orleans shot 41.3 percent (38 of 92) and went 7 of 28 from 3-point range while scoring 54 points in the paint. .... New Orleans narrowly eclipsed its season low of 88 points in a game. ... Stanley Johnson scored 13 points.
Rockets: Visit Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Pelicans: Host Atlanta on Tuesday.
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