When the NBA Playoffs start next weekend, the Rockets will be the third seed in the Western Conference after beating the Denver Nuggets 110-104 Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
The win improves the Rockets to 53-25 on the season, five games better than 4th seeded Utah with four games to play. If the season were to end now, the Rockets would face Oklahoma City in round 1.
In his return to the Rockets lineup after missing Sunday’s game in Phoenix with the flu, James Harden finished as the game’s high scorer with 31 points on 8-of-19 shooting. He added 7 rebounds and 10 assists while making 11-of-15 from the free throw, and 4-of-10 from downtown, the last came with the Rockets leading by 2 and only 56.4 seconds left in the game.
With a win, Denver could’ve pulled into a tie for the final playoff spot in the West, and it led by five early, but the Rockets outscored the Nuggets 29-13 over the last 7:34 of the first quarter to take a 36-25 lead. They grew that lead to 17 when Lou Williams found Clint Capela for an alleyoop with 6:12 left in the first half, but the Nuggets closed to within 9 at halftime, and got even closer after the break.
A 13-5 spurt got Denver within a point, but Houston answered with five in a row, but thanks to Jameer Nelson’s 3-ponter with 5:08 left, they pulled even, and Gary Harris’ layup gave Denver the lead. It switched hands a few times, but Houston closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to take a 6-point lead going into the fourth, where the Rockets saw their lead trimmed to one, but Denver could never get over the hump.
Nene scored 16-points off the bench for the Rockets, while Trevor Ariza, back after also missing Sunday’s game in Phoenix due to a death in the family, scored 15 to go with 10 rebounds. Capela and Patrick Beverley finished with double-digit rebounds.
Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 23 points, Nikola Jokic finished with 12 points, 19 rebounds, 9 assists, and five steals, but made just 6-of-17 shots from the field.