HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden is certain the Houston Rockets won’t let up in their last nine regular-season games despite holding a 4 1/2 game lead over Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference.
“The edge is going to be there no matter what,” he said. “We haven’t done anything. We don’t have time to relax.”
Harden scored 27 points in three quarters and the Rockets routed the New Orleans Pelicans 114-91 on Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.
The NBA-leading Rockets improved to 59-14 to overtake the 1993-94 championship team for the most wins in franchise history.
“It was just another win,” Eric Gordon said. “We have high expectations for one another.”
Houston never trailed and already had a huge lead to start the fourth before scoring seven straight points early in the period to make it 92-63 with 10 minutes remaining. Clint Capela had four points and a steal to lead Houston in that stretch. Capela finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and tied a career high with six blocks.
The Pelicans, who were playing their fifth game in seven days, finally ran out of gas, and looked worn out from the start. Entering Saturday’s game they had played on three consecutive nights from Tuesday-Thursday because of a rescheduled game and won all of them to extend their winning streak to four in a row.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I do think we were a little tired and we got off to a rough start and this is not a team you want to get off to a rough start with.”
Anthony Davis, who also sat out the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, led New Orleans with 25 points and had eight rebounds and four blocks.
Eric Gordon added 19 points for the Rockets on a night Chris Paul missed his second straight game because of a sore left hamstring.
Houston led by 27 entering the third quarter after a first half where Harden scored 18. The Pelicans opened the second half with an 11-2 run, with six points from Davis, to get within 66-48 with about eight minutes left.
There was a scuffle soon after that when Gordon and E’Twaun Moore got tangled up and Moore gave Gordon a two-handed shove in the back. The two players lunged at each other and had to be separated, but order was quickly restored and Moore was given a personal foul and a technical foul.
Gordon made the free throw on the technical and Harden added a basket soon after that, but it didn’t end Houston’s struggles in the quarter.
Harden had three turnovers over the next two minutes and another possession ended because the shot clock ran out. New Orleans scored four more points in that stretch to cut the lead to 69-52.
A 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson ended a more than three-minute scoring drought for Houston after that but New Orleans scored the next six points to whittle the deficit to 72-58 with about three minutes left in the quarter.
The Rockets got going near the end of the quarter and 3-pointers by Joe Johnson and Gerald Green left them up 83-61 entering the fourth quarter.
Houston was up 64-37 at halftime.
Pelicans: Rajon Rondo missed the game with a sprained right wrist. … Cheick Diallo had 15 points and nine rebounds. … New Orleans was 6 of 21 on 3-pointers.
Rockets: Coach Mike D’Antoni said Paul was feeling better and could play on Sunday. … Luc Mbah a Moute sat out with a sore left knee after leaving Houston’s game on Thursday with the injury. … The 37 points New Orleans scored in the first half were the fewest Houston has allowed in a first half this season.
NOT A GOOD IDEA
Harden was trying to tie his shoe late in the second quarter when DeAndre Liggins inexplicably swiped at his laces. Harden paused for a second before continuing to tie his shoe. Liggins paid for the annoyance when Harden pulled up seconds later and made a long 3 with the guard in his face. Harden added a second 3-pointer over Liggins on Houston’s next possession to put Houston up 61-35.
Harden acknowledged the Liggins swiped at his shoelace but wouldn’t say what he thought about the move.
“I don’t know,” he said. “No comment.”
THEY SAID IT
D’Antoni on Capela’s performance: “Clint was amazing. I thought his energy was off the charts.”
Pelicans: Host Portland on Tuesday.
Rockets: Host Atlanta on Sunday.