James scores 31 as Lakers shoot down Rockets, Bucks cruise past Nets
LeBron James scored 31 points and handed out 12 assists Saturday as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied for a 124-115 NBA victory over the Houston Rockets.
Los Angeles outscored the Rockets 32-17 in the third quarter to turn around the game, rebounding from a Wednesday loss to the Orlando Magic that snapped the Western Conference-leading Lakers’ nine-game winning streak.
“We want to continue to get better,” James said. “We want to stay on an even keel throughout the season, it’s an 82-game season, and we did that.
“We had a chance to reshape, refocus and start the second half of the season the right way, and we did that.”
Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in 20 points apiece for Los Angeles.
Russell Westbrook scored 35 points and James Harden had 34 for Houston, who dropped their third straight.
The Rockets looked determined to turn their fortunes around in an energetic first quarter, and they led 65-59 at halftime.
But the Lakers responded after the break, pushing their lead to as many as 16 early in the fourth quarter.
As the Lakers reasserted themselves in the West, the Milwaukee Bucks continued to roll in the East.
Led by 29 points from reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks ran roughshod over the Nets in Brooklyn, improving their league-leading record with a 117-97 victory.
-‘We were focused’ –
Antetokounmpo added 12 rebounds in the win, the Bucks’ sixth straight.
Milwaukee led 57-42 at half-time and stretched the advantage to 93-71 heading into the final period.
Khris Middleton added 20 points for the Bucks, who had six players score in double figures.
Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 17 points, but Brooklyn never really looked like stopping the Bucks, who connected on 50.6 percent of their shots from the field, including 17 of 37 three-point attempts.
They held the Nets to 33.3 percent shooting, and never trailed after the opening minutes.
The dominant performance came two days after the Bucks let a double-digit lead dwindle to four points late in the fourth quarter in close-run a win over the Boston Celtics.
“We were focused, we had the lead but we were playing like it’s a tie game,” Antetokounmpo said of the Bucks’ determination not to let up on the accelerator on Saturday.
“We know that Brooklyn is a team that can get hot. We were able to be smart, move the ball, get good shots, so we were able to build on that lead.”
At 38-6, the Bucks are 7 1/2 games ahead of the Miami Heat in the East.
The reigning champion Toronto Raptors edged into third place — nine games adrift — with a 122-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves while the Boston Celtics slipped back to fourth with a 123-119 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Toronto’s Fred VanVleet scored 29 points in his return from injury and Kyle Lowry added 28 points for the Raptors, who have won three straight.
Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins posted the first triple-double of his career with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in defeat.
– Suns surprise Celtics –
Phoenix guard Devin Booker fell just shy of a triple-double with 39 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Suns withstood a Celtics-record 11 three-pointers by Marcus Smart.
Deandre Ayton scored 26 points with 15 rebounds and Mikal Bridges added 26 points for the suddenly surging Suns, who have won four of their last five.
Smart who made half of his 22 three-point attempts, finished with a career-high 37 points.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Clippers launched a six-game road trip with a 133-130 victory over the Pelicans in New Orleans.
With forward Paul George out for a fifth straight game with a hamstring strain, Kawhi Leonard continued his red-hot scoring pace, delivering 39 points for the Clippers — who trailed by 10 points late in the third quarter.
Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points in the final period, when the Clippers outscored the Pelicans 31-20.