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Defiant Harden says ‘no pressure’ as Rockets host game seven

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By Agence France-Presse

The Houston Rockets, who battled to 65 regular-season wins to earn a home-court edge throughout the NBA playoffs, aim to put that advantage to use on Monday.

The Rockets and their Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden host the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in a decisive game seven of the Western Conference finals on Monday with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

“There’s no pressure,” Harden said after the Rockets failed to close out the series in game six on Saturday.

Harden scored 32 points and handed out nine assists but also coughed up nine turnovers as the Rockets surrendered an early 17-point lead and fell 109-99 in Oakland.

“It’s an opportunity, though, an opportunity that we all are excited to be a part of,” he added. “Game seven at our house. That’s what we worked the entire regular season for, is home-court advantage.

“We’re going to come out and we’re going to be ready.”

The winner of the series will take on either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics for the NBA crown.

The Cavs and Celtics played game seven of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston on Sunday — the first time since 1979 that both the Eastern and Western finals went seven games.

The Rockets expect to be buoyed by fans eager to see the club back in the title series for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.

But coach Mike D’Antoni said he had “no idea” whether star point guard Chris Paul would be able to play after suffering a hamstring strain in game five.

Paul, a 13-year NBA veteran and nine-time All-Star who has never played in the NBA Finals, was a key factor in the game four and game five victories that put the Rockets on the brink of advancing.

But he was injured in the final minute of game five, and could only watch in frustration as the Rockets succumbed to the Warriors’ second-half onslaught on Saturday.

“Obviously we want to have him,” Rockets forward PJ Tucker said. “He’s one of the best point guards in the league, but if he doesn’t play, we’ll figure it out. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win this game.

“The five guys on the floor and whoever else is playing, we’re going to roll,” Tucker said. “It’s what we do. It’s what we’re built for.” (AFP)