HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 33 points and 13 assists and the Houston Rockets rallied for a 111-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night to maintain their spot in the Western Conference standings with the postseason just days away.
The Rockets had lost two in a row and needed the win to stay ahead of Portland in fourth place in the West.
Houston got a boost from the return of Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, who had both missed the last eight games with injuries. Beverley scored 20 points and Howard had 13.
Luke Babbitt, who was signed by the Pelicans in February after playing 18 games in Russia this season, had a career-high 24 points as New Orleans dropped its eighth straight. Austin Rivers had a season-high 20 points with 10 rebounds and six assists, and Anthony Morrow also had 20 points.
The Pelicans led by eight points with less than three minutes remaining when Houston used a 9-0 run, powered by two 3-pointers from Beverley to take a 105-104 lead with 1:04 left. Beverley’s second 3 in that span clanged off the rim and into the air before falling back into the basket and bringing the crowd to its feet.
Howard had a block on a shot by Jeff Withey to give Houston the ball back after Beverley’s first 3 in that run. Harden made a layup to give the Rockets their first lead since the second quarter after Beverley’s 3s.
Jeremy Lin extended the run to 11 straight points with his layup seconds later and stole the ball on the Pelicans’ next possession to secure the win.
New Orleans was clinging to a 3-point lead when Babbitt scored five quick points to extend the lead to 100-92 with about four minutes left.
Harden was fouled as he made an off-balance layup with one hand and then made the free throw to get the Rockets within 91-87 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.
Houston trailed by 10 when Harden and Beverley hit 3-pointers sandwiched around a basket by Rivers to cut the lead to 90-84 with about eight minutes left. Beverley held up three fingers on each hand and beat his chest after he swished his 3-pointer.
The Pelicans led 82-72 entering the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans were up by 15 points early in the third quarter when Houston used a 12-4 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Harden as the shot clock expired, to get within 65-58.
A 3 by Lin followed by a pair of free throws from Jones later in the quarter cut the Pelicans’ lead to 73-68. But New Orleans used a 7-2 run with the help of a 3-pointer by James Southerland to extend the lead to 80-70 with a minute left in the third quarter.
Houston led by two with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter before New Orleans used a 8-2 run to take a 35-31 lead. The Rockets had regained a one-point lead soon after that when the Pelicans used a 19-6 spurt to go on top 56-44 about 2 1/2 minutes before halftime.
Babbitt made three 3-pointers in that stretch and Rivers added a fourth 3.
NOTES: Hall of Famer and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon watched the game from a courtside seat. … Houston extended its single-season record for sellouts to 37 with a sold-out crowd of 18,372 on Saturday night. … Howard had been out because of a left ankle strain and Beverley had missed time because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. … Houston’s Chandler Parsons (wrist and hip) and Francisco Garcia (back) sat out with injuries. They are both listed as day to day.