Harden scores 31, Rockets top Bobcats

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) tries to complete the play despite being fouled by Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson (25) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 24, 2014. The Rockets won 100-89.

Bob Leverone/AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — James Harden scored 31 points, Dwight Howard had a double-double in his return to the court and the Houston Rockets defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 100-89 Monday night for their fourth straight win.

Harden had 14 points in the pivotal third quarter and finished 11-of-19 from the field.

Terrence Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds in the victory.

Howard had missed the previous three games with an ankle injury, but Houston won all three without him by an average of 23 points. He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Kemba Walker had 22 points and Al Jefferson had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Charlotte, which lost for only the second time in 11 games at home.

The Bobcats shot just 37 percent from the field.

The Rockets (48-22) entered 1 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for third place in the Western Conference and riding a wave of confidence having shot 54.7 percent during the recent three-game win streak.

The Bobcats (34-37) came in having won seven of their last 10 — including a 30-point victory over Portland on Saturday night — and looking to gain ground on Washington in the race for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

They kept pace with the Rockets until the end of the third quarter when Houston closed with a 13-2 run to build a double-digit lead. Harden led the way, scoring 10 points during that crucial stretch a breakaway one-handed dunk and a fall away 3-pointer.

The Bobcats got to within five on a jumper by Jefferson in the lane, but Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverly knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead to 98-87 with one minute left in the game.

Howard battled through foul trouble in his first game back from an ankle injury.

He picked up his fourth foul with 3:12 left in the third quarter and then his fifth almost as soon as he checked back in midway through the fourth quarter. But he managed to finish the game without fouling out and played 32 minutes.

The Rockets took a 54-50 lead into the break behind 14 points from Harden and 50 percent shooting from the field.

NOTES: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attended the game. Silver said he would like to see Charlotte host the NBA All-Star game in the near future. "The process is for them to apply. We’ve had our events department down here to survey the building and there are some upgrades to the building that are needed. Part of the understanding is to assure the building remains state-of-the-art… but I’d love to bring the All-Star game back here. It’s a hotbed of basketball and the only thing they have to do is apply." … Team owner Michael Jordan took in the game from the end of the Bobcats bench for the second straight game. … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford picked up his seventh technical of the year.