NEW ORLEANS — James Harden had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets won for the 21st time in 22 games, beating the New Orleans Pelicans, 107-101, on Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time).
Harden's highlights included his usual array of explosive drives and pull-up jumpers, including a 27-foot, straight-on 3 that put the Rockets up by nine with 1:31 left.
Chris Paul added 21 points and Clint Capela had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, winners of four straight since their 17-game winning streak ended against Toronto.
Anthony Davis had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday scored 19 points for New Orleans, which has lost four of five since winning 10 straight.
The Pelicans had a chance to make it a one-possession game with Holiday's driving layup, as he was fouled, 105-101, with 17 seconds left. Holiday appeared to miss the free throw on purpose in hopes of capturing a long rebound, but Paul foiled that plan by darting in front of the Pelicans guard to give Houston possession and force New Orleans to foul him.
Paul made both free throws with 14 seconds left for the final margin.
The Pelicans are one of only two teams to beat Houston in their last 23 games. That New Orleans victory was also the game in which All-Star DeMarcus Cousins' season ended with a torn Achilles tendon in the final seconds.
The Pelicans on Saturday appeared determined not to give in, taking several slim leads in a competitive first half in which neither team led by more than seven, and which finished with the Rockets leading 60-54.
But New Orleans struggled offensively to start the third quarter, scoring only two points through the first 6:45 of the period.
Houston exploited that drought, going up by 20 when Trevor Ariza, who finished with 17 points, hit one of his four 3s with 5:28 left in the quarter.
Holiday helped New Orleans regain momentum with a crowd-stirring block in transition, followed by his 3-pointer, and New Orleans trimmed its deficit to 12 by the end of the period.
Darius Miller opened the fourth with a pair of 3s, one as he was fouled, and New Orleans was as close as four points when Cheick Diallo's layup made it 85-81 with 10 minutes to play.
That set up a competitive finish in which Harden kept the Pelicans at bay, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter. Three of his points came on a series of four free throws after he drew a foul on Holiday while attempting a 3-pointer. Holiday and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry disputed the call, saying the crafty Harden initiated the contact by swinging his arms in front of him was he went up for the shot.
Gentry was assessed a technical foul, and the Rockets led 95-85 with 5:39 left.
Rockets: Improved to 2-1 against New Orleans this season, with the other victory coming in Houston. ... The Rockets are now 55-14 and need four victories in their last 13 games to finish with the best regular-season record in franchise history, surpassing the 1993-94 club that went 58-24. ... Improved to 37-2 when Harden, Paul and Capela are all in the lineup.
Pelicans: Ian Clark scored 17 and Miller 13. ... Guard Rajon Rondo did not play. Gentry said before the game that Rondo was getting the night off to rest with the Pelicans opening a stretch of five games in six nights. Still, Rondo appeared verbally engaged in the game, never more so than when he was assessed a technical foul in the second quarter. ... The Pelicans held a moment of silence before the game for late owner Tom Benson, who died at age 90 on Thursday. A video tribute to Benson's time with both the NFL's Saints and Pelicans was shown on the center scoreboard at halftime.
Rockets: At Minnesota on Sunday night.
Pelicans: Host Boston on Sunday night.