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Harden’s Rockets rough up Clippers

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – James Harden scored 31 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out seven assists, and Chris Paul added 29 points and seven assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 135-103 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

Houston remains a half-game ahead of Portland, which also won Wednesday, for third place in the Western Conference. With the loss, Los Angeles fell 1 1/2 games behind Utah, a winner earlier in the evening, in the race for the fifth seed in the West.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 20 points to pace the Clippers, who lost for just the third time in 16 games. Danilo Gallinari added 16, and Lou Williams scored 14 off the bench.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Clippers had been the only team in the West not to have lost to the Rockets this season, having defeated Houston twice in October.

The Rockets made sure that streak ended by grabbing the lead early and never giving it up. The Clippers led once, 2-0, on Landry Shamet’s layup 43 seconds into the game.

Clint Capela’s alley-oop dunk on an assist from Harden tied the game. Harden then made a pair of free throws and Paul sank a 26-foot 3-pointer, and the Rockets were off and running.

Gallinari’s trey got the Clippers to within 13-11, but the Rockets leaned on Harden and Paul to take a 39-26 lead after one. Harden led the way with 13 points and three assists, and Paul added nine points and four assists.

Houston expanded the edge to 21 on a Harden 3-pointer midway through the second quarter, but the Clippers cut the deficit to 68-53 at halftime.

The Rockets made 10 of 19 from beyond the arc and outrebounded the Clippers in the first half, 25-16.

Houston never was threatened in the second half, although Los Angeles got as close as 16 on JaMychal Green’s 3-pointer that made the score 82-66.

Harden scored the next eight points to quash any hope the Clippers had of staging a comeback. Elsewhere, Boston’s Gordon Hayward scored a game-high 25 points and Kyrie Irving added 23 to lift the Celtics to a crucial 112-102 road victory over the Miami Heat.

Jayson Tatum scored nine consecutive points in the fourth quarter to help Boston remain in a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Al Horford tallied 21 points, Tatum 16 and Aron Baynes 10.

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