When the nets finally cooled down at Staples Center, the Houston Rockets had a choice. They could be excited about their highest-scoring game of the year, or dismayed at their worst defensive effort in more than five months.
James Harden and the Rockets chose to draw motivation from both sources for their playoff push after a prolific night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Terrence Jones and Harden scored 33 points apiece, and the Rockets beat the Lakers 145-130 on Tuesday night for their third straight victory.
Chandler Parsons scored 19 points for the Rockets, who used a 49-point third quarter to solidify their hold on fourth place in the Western Conference standings despite their second-worst defensive performance of the year.
Still, Houston won the opener of a three-game road trip without injured Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, scoring with stunning ease against the Lakers’ laughable defense.
"We had it going," said Harden, who had 12 assists and hit three 3-pointers. "We still gave up too many points, more than we wanted to, but we still got it going. Tonight was a tough game, a weird game."
Jones scored 23 points during a dominant first half, while Harden contributed 18 points during an overwhelming third quarter for the Rockets, who made 18 of their 24 shots and hit seven 3-pointers to go ahead 115-90.
Jones, who limped off the court with cramps, and Harden both sat out the fourth quarter of the Rockets’ third win over the Lakers this season. Rookie Isaiah Canaan matched his career high with 15 points for Houston (52-25), which leads Portland by 2 games with a game in hand for fourth place in the West.
"When you go up like that, it’s hard to stay locked in (defensively)," Parsons said. "But we can do a better job of that. We’ve just got to keep going and lock up homecourt advantage and get ready for the playoffs."
Steve Nash moved into third place on the NBA’s career assists list for the miserable Lakers (25-53), who tied the franchise record for losses in a single season with their worst defensive performance of the year. Afterward, Nash said his season might be over after playing through another twinge of pain in his troublesome hamstrings.
"I just wanted to hang on and get this over with," the two-time NBA MVP said. "All of this is beyond my aspirations and wildest dreams. To be in that company is phenomenal."
After matching the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers’ 53 losses in a 72-game season, coach Mike D’Antoni’s injury-riddled team will finish with the club’s most losses since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.
Nick Young scored 32 points and Jodie Meeks added 30 for the Lakers, who have lost five straight. Jordan Farmar had 15 points and eight assists in his return from a 10-game injury absence with a strained groin for the Lakers, who allowed 143 points by Minnesota 11 days ago.
"We talk about schemes and different ways to play things, but it just seems like guys on other teams score too easily," Farmar said. "It just comes down to heart. It comes down to pride. Guys have to want it."
Howard, nursing a sprained left ankle, didn’t play in the Rockets’ second visit to the Lakers’ home court since he spurned the 16-time NBA champions as a free agent last summer for less money in Houston. The fans still booed and shouted "Coward!" at Howard, who came out to the Rockets’ bench late in the first quarter wearing bright pink pants.
The home crowd gave a standing ovation to Nash when he passed Mark Jackson late in the first half with a long outlet pass to Meeks for his 10,335th career assist. The 40-year-old Nash, who is expected to return to the Lakers next season, trails only assists leader John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091) in league history.
Nash finished with three points and five assists in 13 minutes, sitting out the second half in just his 15th game of the season.
The Lakers were down to just nine healthy players for their latest loss, playing without injured Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore. Nash, Farmar and Young played through injury problems to suit up.
Nash catalyzed a 22-8 run in the second quarter by the Lakers, who briefly took the lead before Houston went into halftime up 66-61. The Rockets made a 28-6 run in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
NOTES: Late in the fourth quarter, the Lakers announced general manager Mitch Kupchak has agreed to a multiyear contract extension. The club’s longtime personnel boss had one year left on his contract. … The Clippers scored 137 points against Houston in the fourth game of the season. … Welterweight champion Timothy Bradley Jr. was at Staples Center to promote his rematch with Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in Las Vegas. Andy Garcia, Jason Biggs, Jenny Mollen and Robbie Keane watched at courtside.