HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden wasn’t concerned about overstating the importance of Houston’s come-from-behind victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night.
"We needed this win more than anything," he said.
Harden had 33 points and 13 assists and the Rockets rallied for a 111-104 win over the Pelicans 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.
The Rockets 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.
"Pat was knocking down shots and Dwight was an easy rim target, so it made things easier for me," Harden said.
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 blocked 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.
"We kind of had to pull a rabbit out of our hat tonight," coach Kevin McHale said.
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.
"We made a couple of mental mistakes, a couple of key turnovers and … we had a couple of mishaps, and you combine those three things and it’s going to be tough to win," Rivers said. "This was a really frustrating loss."
McHale hoped he wouldn’t have to overexert Howard and Beverley in their first game back, but the game didn’t work out that way. Howard played more than 29 minutes and Beverley more than 33.
"They both said they were feeling fine and wanted to win the game and we needed that win," McHale said.
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 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.
New Orleans was 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 minutes before halftime.
Babbitt made three 3-pointers in that stretch and Rivers added a fourth 3.
NOTES: Hall of Famer and former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon watched 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 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. … Houston’s Troy Daniels had a long Saturday. He played 44 minutes and scored 30 points in a D-League playoff game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before flying from Des Moines to Houston and collecting three points and a rebound in almost 13 minutes for the Rockets.