Coming off another huge game, James Harden continues to make it look easy for the Houston Rockets.
He may need to carry the load again Wednesday night if Dwight Howard can’t go against the visiting Dallas Mavericks, who are mired in their longest skid of the season.
Harden leads the league with 27.6 points per game, and he’s averaged 37.0 in helping Houston (31-14) win three of four. The All-Star guard has scored at least 33 in each of those contests while shooting a combined 54.1 percent, including 17 of 35 from 3-point range.
Harden stayed hot with 37 points in Sunday’s 99-87 road win over the Lakers while Howard sat out with a sprained ankle. Harden appeared to be done for the night before returning with just under 7 minutes to go after Los Angeles cut into a 25-point lead.
"It’s my job to be not only a scorer, but a facilitator," he said. "Make sure everybody is happy, getting good shots. We’ve got to do a better job closing out games. It’s definitely getting there. We’re more than capable of being the best defensive team in the league, but we’ve got to focus on it every game."
Howard’s status remains unclear after aggravating his injury during Tuesday’s practice. However, the Rockets could be getting some help in the form of Terrence Jones, who went through a full practice for the first time and could suit up Wednesday.
Jones averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in the first four games but hasn’t played since Nov. 3 due to nerve inflammation in his left leg.
"He had a really strong training camp and at the start of the season he was playing very well, was confident, moving very well, stronger," coach Kevin McHale said. "So right now it’s getting a guy that can move right into your rotation, it’s like making a trade. It’s huge for our team."
The Mavericks (30-16) are in need of a boost after averaging 98.0 points during a three-game skid. Dallas, averaging 107.5 on the season to rank second in the NBA, hasn’t lost four in a row since Jan. 2-9, 2013.
The Mavs were limited to their second-lowest scoring total of the season in Tuesday’s 109-90 loss to Memphis. They went 7 of 10 from the foul line, setting a season low for makes.
Dallas also had no answer for the Grizzlies defensively, allowing them to shoot 53.2 percent for its highest mark surrendered in 25 games.
"We’ve got to sustain effort during defensive possessions," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Right now it’s a hard conference. It’s a hard stretch of schedule."
The Mavs now sit 3 1/2 games behind Southwest Division-leading Memphis and 1 1/2 in back of the second-place Rockets.
Houston is 18-3 when Harden scores at least 30 points, and he’s averaging 31.5 in his last four home matchups against Dallas. Harden poured in 32 and Patrick Beverley scored a season-high 20 as Houston took this season’s first matchup, 95-92 on Nov. 22.
Howard, who missed that game with a knee injury, is averaging 27.7 points in his last three against Dallas.
Dirk Nowitzki managed 11 points Tuesday, one off his season low. He had averaged 34.7 on 62.7 percent from the floor over a three-game stretch against the Rockets before scoring 11 on 4-of-18 shooting in November.
The Rockets have limited Monta Ellis to an average of 13.7 points and 29.8 percent shooting in the last three in the series.
Dallas has dropped three of its last four visits to Houston.