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Harden has 33 points as Rockets top Blazers

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Associated Press
4/6/2013 1:28:07 AM
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PORTLAND, Ore. - Two more wins — or a win and a little help — and the Houston Rockets clinch a spot in the playoffs.

So they certainly weren't taking the slumping Portland for granted on Friday night when they thumped the Trail Blazers 116-98.

James Harden had 33 points and Jeremy Lin added 22 for the Rockets, who were without forward Chandler Parsons because of a calf injury.

"We did a pretty good job of staying aggressive and taking the ball to the basket," Harden said. "We were getting in the paint and staying in attack mode."

Houston (43-33) remained in seventh place in the Western Conference — three games in front of the Los Angeles Lakers — for its first playoff appearance since 2008-09.

The Rockets play at Denver on Saturday night before hosting Phoenix on Tuesday.

LaMarcus Aldridge returned from an ankle injury with 32 points and 13 rebounds for the Blazers (33-43), who matched their season-worst slide with a seventh straight loss.

The Blazers were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Afterward, Wesley Matthews questioned the team's heart.

"It's not even about that (the playoffs)," Matthews said, vowing to have a talk with his team on Saturday. "We've got to play like this is the blessing it is."

Parsons, who is averaging 15.3 points and 5.4 rebounds, sustained a right calf injury late in Houston's 112-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. The injury does not appear serious.

Houston was also without Carlos Delfino because of the flu.

Harden had 17 points in the first quarter. His jumper gave the Rockets a 27-22 lead but the Blazers stayed close, paced by Aldridge's 14 points and six rebounds in the period.

Houston took off on an 11-0 run to go up 44-33 on Donatas Motiejunas' layup and extended it to 59-40 on Harden's layup with 3:40 left in the half.

Portland responded with a 14-1 run to narrow the gap to 60-54 and wound up trailing 63-56 at the half. Aldridge led all scorers with 24 points and 10 rebounds at the break.

Francisco Garcia's dunk made it 89-62 for the Rockets midway through the third quarter. Harden's short jumper pushed the lead to 110-90 with 5:35 left, and Portland fans started streaming for the exits.

Lin said the key was ball movement.

"If you look at the games we build leads, ball movement is what we do," he said. "Then you look at the games we give up leads and that (ball movement) is what we fail to do. It's pretty clear to us we can be two different teams, one that moves the ball and one that doesn't."

Rockets rookie Terrence Jones made his first appearance as a pro in his native Portland, playing for 14 minutes. Jones led Jefferson High School to three straight Oregon state titles before going to Kentucky, where he was part of the Wildcats' NCAA championship team last season.

Before the game, Jones was asked how many tickets he requested. "A lot," he said.

It was Jones' 13th appearance this season. He had 14 points in Wednesday night's win over the Kings.

Aldridge appeared healthy after missing four games because of a right ankle sprain. But the Blazers were still without Nicolas Batum, who has missed two games with a sore right shoulder. Victor Claver started in his absence.

Aldridge, who leads the NBA with seven games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, didn't agree with Matthews' assessment that the Blazers lacked heart.

"I think the effort was there," Aldridge said. "We've just got to play smarter."

Notes: Blazers guard Damian Lillard on Friday won the league's Western Conference Rookie of the Month honours for the fifth straight month. He is the only Blazer to win the honour five times, and he's the first NBA player to win it the first five months of the season since Blake Griffin in 2010-11. The 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 21.3 points, 6.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds in March. ... Blazers forward Sasha Pavlovic made his first appearance in a game for Portland since late February. ... It was Houston's 11th consecutive game with 100 more points. ... The two teams split the season series with two wins apiece.

James Harden (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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