Howard returns, Rockets beat Pelicans

Mar 25, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 95-93.

Derick E. Hingle/Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — James Harden had 25 points and 10 assists, Dwight Howard had seven rebounds and a block on Anthony Davis in his return from a two-month absence, and the Houston Rockets handed New Orleans its fourth straight loss with a 95-93 victory on Wednesday night.

Davis had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Pelicans, but uncharacteristically missed eight free throws, including one that could have pulled New Orleans to 94-93 with 7 seconds left. The Pelicans still had a chance to try for a tying 3-pointer after Harden missed a free throw with 3.3 seconds left, but Corey Brewer intentionally fouled Eric Gordon on the inbounds pass to force free throws. Gordon made the first and purposely missed the second in hopes for a tying putback that never materialized.

Trevor Ariza had 22 points, nine rebounds and three steals, and Donatas Montiejunas scored 21 for Houston, which overcame a 17-point first-half deficit.

Tyreke Evans scored 28 points for New Orleans in his return from a sprained ankle that had sidelined him for one game. Quincy Pondexter added 10 points, but New Orleans missed 12 free throws in a loss that prevented them from gaining any ground on Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Pelicans entered the night 3 1/2 games behind the Thunder, who were at San Antonio on Wednesday night.

After the game, Davis came back on the court and worked on free throws for about 10 minutes.

Harden, Ariza and Motiejunas didn’t get much help on offense, but ultimately didn’t need it. They combined to score 57 of Houston’s final 68 points.

Ariza scored 11 in the third quarter, starting with a 3 as Houston opened the period with a 9-0 run to take a 58-52 lead. Ariza later added consecutive 3s and a dunk. Harden, meanwhile, scored 10 in the period, highlighted by a sudden, driving left-handed dunk between the 6-foot-10 Davis and 7-footer Omer Asik.

Harden also hit two free throws and a layup to cap a 6-0 spurt that gave the Rockets their first double-digit lead at 78-67.

New Orleans led by as many as 17 early in the second quarter, but the Rockets controlled the latter portion of the period. They closed to 45-40 on a 13-3 surge fueled in part by Ariza’s five points.

Soon after, Harden hit Houston’s first 3 on the Rockets’ eighth attempt from deep, cutting it to 48-45, and New Orleans led 52-49 at halftime.


Rockets: Houston beat New Orleans for the first time this season after losing the previous two meetings. … Josh Smith played with a sprained right ankle, while Brewer played with a left oblique strain. … Houston made only 6 of 22 3-point attempts. … Patrick Beverley sat out with a sprained left wrist while Terrence Jones missed his third straight game because of a collapsed lung.

Pelicans: The Pelicans fell to 23-13 at home. … Gordon missed his all five of his field goals and had only a single point until he added a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter. … New Orleans was 5 of 15 from 3-point range.


Rockets: Host Minnesota on Friday.

Pelicans: Host Sacramento on Friday.