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Howard and Harden lead Rockets over Kings 119-98
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) Dwight Howard didn't think he was aggressive enough in Houston's two losses to Sacramento this season and vowed to attack from the beginning when the Rockets faced the Kings on Wednesday night.
Howard's plan worked. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds by halftime on the way to a 26-point night to help the Rockets cruise to their third straight win, a 119-98 victory over the Kings.
Howard also had 13 rebounds and four blocks and James Harden added 24 points and nine assists before the pair went to the bench for the fourth quarter.
"The last couple of games against those guys, I didn't come out aggressive like I needed to on both ends of the floor," Howard said. "I've been looking at some film and I wanted to get off to a better start. It's not just about scoring. It's defense and things like that."
The Rockets took the lead midway through the first quarter and didn't trail again. The Kings struggled after losing top scorers Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins to injuries before halftime.
Gay, who tied a career high with 41 points on Tuesday night, injured his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter and Cousins sprained his left ankle in the second.
Sacramento coach Mike Malone didn't have any more information on the injuries after the game and said that they'd know more on Thursday.
"It was a big loss to lose both of those guys in the first half," Malone said. "Unfortunately, those other guys that were able to play didn't respond. We got our (tails) kicked tonight and we're a no-excuse team ... so the fact that we guarded no one tonight has nothing to do with them not being able to play in the second half."
Houston led by 15 points entering the fourth quarter and padded its lead with Harden and Howard relaxing on the bench in their warm-up shirts.
They used a 15-3 spurt in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth to make it 103-76. Sacramento missed eight shots, including three layups in that span, and its only points came on free throws by Williams.
The Rockets were up by nine points early in the third quarter before scoring 10 straight points to stretch their advantage to 65-46. Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley both had 3-pointers in that stretch.
Jimmer Fredette made a 3-pointer that cut Houston's lead to 11 points with about eight minutes left in the second quarter. Cousins went down on Sacramento's next possession when he was knocked to the court on a hard foul by Beverley as he drove to the basket. Beverley stood over him for a second while he was down and Beverley received a technical.
Cousins entered the game leading the team in scoring (23.1) and rebounding (11.7). He scored just two points before getting hurt, snapping a streak of 30 straight games with at least 10 points.
The Rockets used a 6-2 spurt after that to extend their lead to 44-29.
Sacramento got within eight two times after that in the second quarter, but Howard scored six points with two alley-oop dunks in the last 1 1/2 minutes of the first half to help the Rockets lead 55-44 at the break.
The Kings were up by five points early before Houston used a 14-5 run to take a 21-17 lead with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Gay, who entered the game averaging 20.2 points, was injured at the beginning of that run, which was powered by eight points from Harden.
Houston coach Kevin McHale was impressed with Harden's work on Wednesday night.
"He started getting to the rim," McHale said. "I thought we were settling for a lot and playing East and West. We told them to get to the hole and put pressure on the basket and they did."
Gay has started all 21 games for the Kings since being traded from Toronto on Dec. 9.
Aaron Gray received a flagrant foul soon after that when he grabbed Harden as he was heading to the basket. Harden made both free throws as part of an 8-2 run that put the Rockets up 29-22 at the end of the first.
Omri Casspi added 20 points and tied a career-high with 12 rebounds and Parsons added 19 points with 10 rebounds.
NOTES: Houston's Terrence Jones missed his second straight game with a deep thigh bruise and Ronnie Brewer sat out with a sore calf. ... Sacramento's Quincy Acy and Harden both received technical fouls on the same play in the third quarter. ... Thomas has made at least one 3-pointer in 35 straight games, tying the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.
Updated January 23, 2014