LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The league-leading Houston Rockets ended the Trail Blazers’ 13-game NBA winning streak Tuesday with a hard-fought 115-111 victory in Portland.
In a game featuring the NBA’s two hottest teams, Houston’s Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden scored 42 points to help the Rockets notch their 13th victory in 14 games since the All-Star break.
Neither team led by more than 10 points in a see-saw battle that saw 17 lead changes and 10 ties.
Harden’s step-back three-pointer put the Rockets up 113-104 with 1:55 to play.
The Trail Blazers narrowed the gap to two points in the final minute, but would get no closer.
Forward Al-Farouq Aminu led Portland with 22 points, one of five Trail Blazers to score in double figures.
Jusuf Nurkic added 21 points and Damian Lillard added 20 as Portland maintained their lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder for third place in the Western Conference.
The Celtics dealt the Thunder a damaging 100-99 loss in Boston, where Marcus Morris drained a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to lift hosts.
With Celtics star Kyrie Irving still sidelined by a sore left knee, Jayson Tatum led Boston with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Morris contributed 21 as the Celtics snapped Oklahoma City’s six-game winning streak.
Russell Westbrook scored 27 points with eight rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, but his last-gasp heave as time expired bounced off the rim.
The Thunder led by six with less than 25 seconds to play, and they were up 99-97 with 12.7 seconds left when Carmelo Anthony missed two free throws.
After a Celtics timeout, Morris drained a fadeaway three-pointer from the right wing for the win.
It was a morale boosting victory for a Celtics team also missing Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis, although it did little to alter the playoff-bound Celtics’ hold on second place in the Eastern Conference.
“They came in here with their full squad and they thought it was going to be a cakewalk,’’ Morris said.
The Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors erased an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to down the Magic in Orlando 93-86.
With star DeMar DeRozan sidelined by a left thigh contusion, Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with a game-high 25 points, with five rebounds and eight assists.
‘’It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done,’’ said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who said that with their playoff berth secure he feared his team had lost concentration.
‘’Mentally, you’ve got to be sharp in these games,’’ he said. ‘’We weren’t for three quarters. We found a way in the fourth quarter.’’
The Minnesota Timberwolves, eighth in the West, bolstered their playoff bid with a 123-109 victory over the fading Los Angeles Clippers.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 28 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Jeff Teague added 20 points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves.
Wiggins and Teague combined to score 23 points in the third quarter, when Minnesota out-scored Los angeles 36-25.
‘’I just thought Minnesota came out and turned the heat up, and we just couldn’t handle the heat, really,’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ‘’I just thought the pressure from them made us wilt.’’
In New Orleans, Anthony Davis scored 37 points to lead the Pelicans to a 115-105 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Rajon Rondo added 19 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds for the Pelicans, who took sole possession of fifth place in the West.
In Salt Lake City, Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 41 points to lead the Hawks to a 99-94 victory over the Jazz.
Taurean Prince added 11 points for the Hawks, who ended Utah’s nine-game winning streak.