LOS ANGELES – James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets pulled away from the Los Angeles Lakers with a pivotal run in the third quarter en route to a 112-95 victory Sunday night.
The Rockets, who snapped a season-high five-game winning streak Friday night with a 91-77 home loss to Cleveland, began the second half of their schedule by beating the Lakers at Staples Center for the sixth straight time.
Dwight Howard had 14 points and 15 rebounds to earn his ninth straight double-double, his longest such streak since a 14-game run three seasons ago. He is averaging 18.9 points and 13.4 boards during this stretch.
Guard Patrick Beverley did not play after spraining his left ankle Friday. Reserve swingman Donatas Motiejunas sat out his eighth straight game because of back soreness.
The Rockets, who had fewer than 50 points in the paint in each of their previous 11 games, had 40 in the first half alone and finished with a season-high 70. The Lakers had 46 in the paint, after getting a season-best 54 in the previous meeting with Houston on Dec. 17 at Staples Center and losing 107-87.
Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 20 points. Kobe Bryant, trying to play through a sore right Achilles, had just five points in 24 minutes and tied a season high with nine assists before sitting out the fourth quarter.
Bryant got an assist on seven of the Lakers’ first 12 baskets on his way to passing Jerry West for second place on the franchise’s all-time list in that category behind Magic Johnson.
Rookie forward Larry Nance Jr., who started in the Lakers’ previous 22 games after playing his first 15 as a reserve, was scratched because of a sore right knee after injuring himself less than 3 minutes into Saturday night’s 109-82 loss at Utah.
As a result, coach Byron Scott used his sixth different starting lineup. Julius Randle started for the first time since Dec. 6 and finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes.
Houston missed eight of its first nine attempts from 3-point range before Harden connected for a 58-53 lead with 2:19 left in the second quarter.
The three-time All-Star, who began the night as the league’s second-highest scorer this season, finished the first half with 21 the 14th time this season that he had at least 20 before intermission.
Harden reached 30 with a 3-pointer that capped a 17-4 run in the first 5:08 of the third quarter and gave the Rockets a 77-61 cushion.
Los Angeles led 36-32 after one quarter, the most points any team has scored against Houston in an opening period this season.
Howard played one tumultuous season with the Lakers, averaging 17.1 points and a league-best 12.4 rebounds in 76 games during the 2012-13 campaign. They were 45-37 and got swept in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio.
Rockets: The Rockets (22-20) are 18-13 under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who took over after Kevin McHale was fired on Nov. 18. Howard is within 31 minutes of the 30,000 mark in the regular season. The eight-time All-Star and five-time NBA rebounding champ missed only three games during his first six years in the league with Orlando. . The Rockets are 13-7 when Howard has a double-double, including three wins over the Lakers.
Lakers: Bryant entered Sunday shooting 34.6 per cent from the field _ the league’s worst mark among qualifying players. . The Lakers (9-34) would have to go no worse than 10-29 the rest of the way for coach Byron Scott to avoid matching his career-worst 18-64 record with the New Orleans Hornets in 2004-05. The Lakers have had a player with double digits in assists only twice in their last 83 games. Jordan Clarkson had 11 and 10 in back-to-back contests against Philadelphia and New Orleans on March 30 and April 1, 2015. Their current drought has reached 51 games. . The Lakers have shot 50 per cent or better from the field only twice in their first 43 games (0-2). Thursday is the 10th anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game against Toronto, the second-highest total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 against the New York Knicks.