HOUSTON – Utah coach Quin Snyder loves watching James Harden play.
Just not when Harden is facing the Jazz.
Harden led the Houston Rockets over the Jazz for the second time in four nights, this time scoring 33 points in a 103-94 victory on Thursday.
“He’s a terrific player,” Snyder said. “I don’t know what more we could have done.”
Including his 30 points in Monday’s 93-91 win in Salt Lake City, Harden has scored at least 30 in three of his last four games.
“My teammates put me in a good position to be successful, putting me in spots where I could get a shot or make a pass,” Harden said. “I couldn’t make a 3 tonight, but just getting to the basket and my pull-up game was there.”
Harden missed all seven 3-point attempts but made up for it by hitting 13 of 18 field goals inside the arc and making 7 of 10 free throws.
Playing without Dwight Howard, who sat out with lower back tightness, the Rockets beat the Jazz for the 10th time in the last 12 meetings.
Gordon Hayward scored 15 points for Utah. Center Rudy Gobert played for the first time since spraining a left knee ligament on Nov. 30. He was limited to just 15 minutes but chipped in six points and three rebounds.
“This game was to see how I was feeling, and I felt great. I wasn’t tired at all,” Gobert said. “I’ve been working hard for a month, and my knee wasn’t really bad.”
In the second half, Jazz guard Rodney Hood limped off the court with an apparent right ankle injury. The severity of his injury was unknown after the game.
“I’m not sure we can do any more than we’re doing,” Snyder said. “I knew it would be hard and even harder when we lose Rodney.”
Howard was ruled out shortly before the game after playing a season-high 41 minutes on Monday. Despite his absence, the Rockets had a 48-42 advantage in points in the paint.
Clint Capela started at centre and had seven points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
Houston outscored Utah 17-2 in fast-break points.
“This team, Utah, they want to slow it down, they want to grind it out,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “It’s just a matter of whose system is going to be more effective that night and who’s going to impose their will.”
Houston entered the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead and held on with timely 3-pointers from Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza. Terry and Marcus Thornton both had 12 points off the bench.
After having one of the league’s worst defences in the first month of the season, the Rockets have held opponents to less than 100 points in five of their last seven home games, going 5-2 in that stretch.
Utah has lost three straight after winning three of the previous four.
“It’s definitely depleting, and it’s going to be tough on us mentally besides the obvious physical part,” Hayward said of the latest starter to go down with injury. “It’s been a tough period for us.”
Jazz: Utah fell to 10-6 in games where it held a halftime lead. Derrick Favors (back spasms) missed his eighth straight game, while Alec Burks (fractured left fibula) missed his seventh straight.
Rockets: Houston was without guard Ty Lawson, who was suspended three games for driving under the influence of alcohol last July, the league announced Thursday. Houston improved to 5-0 without him. After committing 16 turnovers in his previous three games, Harden had just four on Thursday.
GET OFF THE BIKE!
Gobert waited for more than five weeks to return to action after a left knee ligament sprain, but when his name was called on Thursday night, he wasn’t ready. Gobert, who didn’t start and was on limited minutes, had just sat down on a stationary exercise bike in a tunnel behind the bench when Snyder began shouting his name and couldn’t find him. Gobert jumped off the bike and hustled onto the court, picking up a rebound tip-in basket within 20 seconds of his first game action since Nov. 30.
Thornton returned from a two-game absence following the birth of his child on Friday. He shot 4 for 9 in 18 minutes.
“Missing two games in this league is like missing two weeks,” Thornton said. “I was a little rusty from the start, but I got it going in the second half and was able to help my team get the win.”