By Adam Spolane

James Harden might not do everything for the Rockets, but in Monday’s 125-124 win over the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center, he did a lot.

With the Rockets down a point, he rebounded Jameer Nelson’s 21-foot airball, sprinted the length of the floor and laid the ball in with 2.4 seconds left. Then after both teams called timeout, Nikola Jokic inbounded the ball to Mason Plumlee near the basket, but Harden knocked it away and grabbed the ball as the horn sounded.

Harden missed out on a 5th straight triple-double, but the rebound was his 7th, the layup gave him 39 points, and the steal was his 4th to go with 11 assists as the Rockets improved to 49-22 on the season, stretching their lead to six games over Utah for the third seed in the Western Conference standings.

Houston led by as many as 13 in the first quarter, but the Nuggets scored the last eight points of the period and started the second on a 12-3 run. Denver led by as many as 7 in the quarter taking a 65-62 lead into halftime.

Denver’s lead stayed between 5 and 1 for the first most of the third quarter, but Trevor Ariza’s 3-pointer with 3:03 left tied the game, and Nene’s dunk, on a feed from Harden, gave the Rockets the lead. Denver still entered the fourth quarter with a 3-point lead, though it didn’t last long.

Both teams came up empty on their first fourth quarter possessions, but Eric Gordon tied the game with a trey, gave the Rockets the lead with another the next time they had the ball, and after another Nuggets miss, Lou Williams knocked one down from downtown to make it a 103-97 game.

Even as they pushed the lead to seven, Denver didn’t go away. Harden hit a three with 1:28 left to get the Rockets advantage to five points, but Will Barton cut it to a pair with a 3-pointer, and then after stealing a pass from Nene, was fouled as he hit a 9-footer. He made the free throw to give Denver the lead, but because of Harden it didn’t hold.

The loss drops the Nuggets to 33-37 as their lead for the last playoff spot in the West drops to a half game.

Gary Harris led Denver with a career-high 28 points while Barton added 24 off the bench.

Jokic scored 22 points to go with 13 rebounds and 8 assists.

Harden was one of six Rockets to score in double-figures. Gordon added 18 off the bench, while Patrick Beverley and Ariza chipped in 14. Clint Capela scored 12 and Ryan Anderson gave the Rockets 10.


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