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Harden helps Rockets hold off Clippers

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By: Agence France-Presse

The Houston Rockets improved their NBA-best record on Thursday with a 101-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Houston.

Houston’s Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden scored 24 points with seven assists and five rebounds, and his step-back jump shot to put the Rockets up by four points with 29.4 seconds left helped the Western Conference leaders put away the determined Clippers.

Eric Gordon added 23 points off the bench for Houston, who saw five players score in double figures. Gordon produced seven of Houston’s 12 three-pointers as the Rockets uncharacteristically struggled from beyond the arc.

Tobias Harris led the Clippers with 29 points. Austin Rivers added 20 and scored twice in a 6-0 Los Angeles Run that pulled the Clippers within two points with less than a minute to play.

But Harden answered with his mid-range dagger over Rivers and the Rockets improved to 54-14 — two games ahead of the reigning champion Golden State Warriors atop the Western Conference.

The Clippers remained just outside the eighth and final playoff position in the West, chasing the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs, eager to add to their streak of 20 straight playoff appearances, edged the New Orleans Pelicans 98-93.

The Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors turned it on late, using a 16-4 fourth-quarter scoring run to beat the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis 106-99.

The Raptors notched a 10th straight win, but the red-hot Pacers made them work for it.

DeMar DeRozan scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half for Toronto, who have won 17 of their last 18 games.

“When things aren’t going our way, we don’t let the adversity get to us,” DeRozan said. “Once we got the lead, we understand when to push the ball, how to push the ball, get stops, get the momentum. We understand the small things that occur in a game and we try to use that to our advantage.”

The Philadelphia 76ers survived a scare against the lowly Knicks in New York, rallying from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to win 118-110.

Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 29 points and 10 rebounds and all five Philadelphia starters as well as reserve Marco Belinelli scored in double figures.

Philadelphia’s Australian rookie Ben Simmons notched his second straight triple-double with 13 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds as the Sixers pulled within one game of the fifth-place Washington Wizards in the East.