SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – It was another vintage triple-double game for James Harden. The only number the Houston Rockets superstar seemed concerned about, though, was 54 – the number of wins the Rockets have this season.
Harden had 35 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds, leading the Rockets to a 135-128 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. It was the 21st triple-double this season for Harden, second behind Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who broke Oscar Robertson’s 56-year record with his 42nd in a victory over Denver.
Harden has scored 30 or more points and had double-digit assists in 29 games. In this one, he toyed with the Kings’ defense, making five 3-pointers and shooting 9 of 22 overall. He converted 12 of 13 free throws and played 36 minutes, departing for good with the Rockets comfortably in front late in the fourth quarter.
The debate regarding who is the deserving MVP, Harden or Westbrook, will linger until the balloting is revealed after the season.
“I’ve done enough,” said Harden, whose only bad stat was his 10 turnovers. “I thought winning was the most important thing. Period. That’s what it’s all about.”
Harden had the Rockets’ high-powered offense going strong in the opening half when he scored 21 points. He added nine more in the third quarter, when the Rockets continued making 3-pointers and led 107-89 heading into the fourth.
However, if Kings veteran guard Garrett Temple had an MVP vote, he would choose Westbrook.
“Honestly, man, as great as James has been playing the last week, Russ has summed it up, in my eyes,” Temple said. “I mean he had another 50-point something and triple-double with a game-winner. Nobody has been talking about how clutch he’s been. Russ is playing at another whole level right now. Russ is my MVP.”
Ryan Anderson made six 3-pointers and had 21 for Houston. Clint Capela and Lou Williams each had 18 points, and Bobby Brown made four 3-pointers and had 16. The Rockets made 18 of 43 3-point attempts and shot 56 percent overall.
Rookie Skal Labissiere made 10 of 12 shots and had 25 points for the Kings. Ty Lawson had 20 points and 11 assists, Ben McLemore had 18 points, Willie Cauley-Stein contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds, Garrett Temple had 13 points and Buddy Hield added 12.
The Kings allowed a season-high point total and were swept in four games by Houston for the first time since the 1997-98 season. The Rockets have defeated Sacramento in 12 of the teams’ last 13 meetings.
Houston, which had dropped four of its previous six, has already secured third place in the Western Conference and will meet Oklahoma City in the opening round of the playoffs. The Rockets have two games remaining and conclude the regular season Wednesday against visiting Minnesota.
“We’re confident,” Anderson said. “We know if we control the pace of play and our effort, and stay locked in and focused, it will be tough for teams to beat us.”
Houston, which has already set a single-season record for 3-point baskets, had its offense going strong in the opening quarter. The Rockets made nine 3-pointers and led 42-27. Getting little resistance from an uninspired Kings defense, the Rockets stretched their lead to 78-62 by halftime.
The Kings pulled to within six at 88-82 in the third quarter, then watched Houston go on a 15-2 run in building the lead to 19 points. Sacramento owns 7-16 record since trading DeMarcus Cousins at the All-Star break.
HARDEN APPLAUDS WESTBROOK’S RECORD
Harden says there’s no animosity toward Westbrook, his former teammate for several seasons at Oklahoma City. He planned to congratulate Westbrook with a text as soon as he got on the team bus headed for the airport.
“He’s played extremely well all season long,” Harden said. “It’s a great individual accomplishment. This isn’t about any hating.”
Rockets: Rested starter Tevor Ariza and key reserves Eric Gordon and Nene. … Houston made 12 3-pointers and shot 64 percent in the opening half.
Kings: Veterans Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, and Kosta Koufos were given the day off. … Sacramento missed 22 of 31 3s, but still scored a season-high 128 points.
Rockets: Face the Clippers on Monday in their final road game of the regular season.
Kings: Meet Phoenix in their last home game of the season.
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