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NBA: Harden is Rocketman!

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LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A 36-point display from James Harden and a towering defensive performance from Trevor Ariza helped Houston edge past Brooklyn 122-118 on Monday to hand the Rockets a seventh straight win.

Harden contributed eight rebounds and 11 assists while Eric Gordon added 24 points off the bench as Houston improved to 18-7 at the Toyota Center.

But while Harden finished as top-scorer, it was the eye-catching performance of Ariza that helped Houston get over the line.

Ariza produced a superb block of a layup attempt from Nets guard Joe Harris shortly before the buzzer to snuff out any chance of Brooklyn forcing overtime.

Nets center Brook Lopez scored 26 points for the visitors with Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead contributing 30 points between them. Jeremy Lin added 10 points and seven assists.

Harden was relieved the Rockets had survived a furious late assault led by Lopez.

“This is the NBA,’’ Harden said. “You’ve got guys that can get confidence and make shots, and it’s tough to put (the fire) out. Lopez started to get it going early, and they threw the ball to him and he was just scoring. But we got stops when we needed to.’’

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson meanwhile drew consolation from the return of Lin, making his first appearance since November 2.

“It helps having Jeremy back,’’ Atkinson said. “It just gives us organization. He’s a veteran and he had seven assists in 20 minutes, and I think that was big.

“He knows where to give Brook the ball and when to give Brook the ball, and that’s from his experience.’’

The Rockets are now level with Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Clippers, who improved to 18-7 with a pulsating win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center.

Blake Griffin scored 26 points while Chris Paul added 21 points and 14 assists as the Clippers dug deep to win a nail-biting battle 121-120.

Elsewhere Monday, DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points and gave a flawless display of free throw shooting as the Toronto Raptors downed the Milwaukee Bucks on 122-100.

Terrence Ross also weighed in with 25 points after appearing from the bench as the Raptors improved to 17-7 to stay hard on the heels of Eastern Conference leaders Cleveland.

DeRozan also went 15-for-15 from the free throw line as Toronto bagged their third consecutive victory and ninth in 10 games while the Bucks slumped to a third straight defeat.

In Indianapolis, Paul George and Myles Turner led the Indiana Pacers with 22 points each in a 110-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

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