Basketball / NBA

Rockets stay hot as Harden drops 45 on Celtics


James Harden thinks he should be in the MVP discussion again this season and showed why on Thursday night.

Harden had 45 points and six assists, Clint Capela added 24 points and 18 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Boston Celtics 127-113 for their eighth win in nine games.

“Of course, I should be in that conversation,” Harden, the reigning MVP, said. “I received a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing it every single night and being the dog that I am. You can name a few other people that can be in that conversation, but realistically, it’s coming back.”

Harden, who was playing on a bruised left calf, had 17 points in the first quarter and finished 11 of 26 from the field, including 9 of 18 on 3-pointers.

“You take those shots, you’re confident in those shots and those shots will go in,” Harden said. “Sometimes they might not go in, but mostly, they’ll go in. I just have to keep going, keep working.”

Eric Gordon scored 20 points for Houston, which shot 48 percent while improving to a season-high four games above .500. The Rockets finished 18 of 45 on 3s.

“He has a mastery of the game and a control and an ease of which he plays,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “It’s fun to watch.”

Harden has scored at least 30 points in eight straight games, the longest such streak since Russell Westbrook had eight straight 30-point games in November 2016. Harden has scored at least 35 points in six straight games, the longest streak since Carmelo Anthony had six straight in April 2013.

“I think what James is doing is really special because he’s really carrying us right now,” Gerald Green said. “Not only is he scoring, he’s leading us.”

Kyrie Irving had 23 points and 11 assists, Marcus Morris added 19 points before being ejected midway through the fourth quarter, and Jaylen Brown had 18 points off the bench for Boston, which shot 47 percent but was outrebounded 54-38.

“The first 18 minutes and then the last 24 minutes, the glass killed us,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought the restricted area generally on both sides of the floor, our finishing and our lack of rebounding were separators.”

Kings 117, Lakers 116

In Sacramento, Bogdan Bogdanovic made a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Kings rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Los Angeles in the Lakers’ first game this season without LeBron James.

Bogdanovic finished with 23 points and De’Aaron Fox added 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Kyle Kuzma had 34 points to help make up for James’ absence due to a strained left groin , and Lonzo Ball added 20 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Trail Blazers 110, Warriors 109 (OT)

In Oakland, Damian Lillard hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left in overtime and scored 21 points in his final regular-season game at home in Oakland, sending Portland past Golden State in a wild one.

Kevin Durant missed a 4-meter jumper off the front rim as the final buzzer sounded but finished with his second triple-double of the season: 26 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Bucks 112, Knicks 96

In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 14 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 25 points and the Bucks beat New York for their sixth win in seven games.

Luke Kornet tied a career high with 23 points for the Knicks, who lost their sixth straight game.

76ers 114, Jazz 97

In Salt Lake City, JJ Redick scored 24 points and Joel Embiid had 23 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks to help Philadelphia cruise past Utah.