HOUSTON – James Harden was quick to say yes when asked if he’s playing at as high of a level as he ever has.
The follow up question of why wasn’t quite as easy for Houston’s bearded star.
“I don’t know,” he said before letting out an awkward laugh and looking around before continuing. “Work. Try to study the game and get better. Listen to people around me that push me and motivate me and try to be the best I can be. It’s pretty simple.”
Harden had a triple-double of 35 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to help the Rockets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-113 on Thursday night.
Harden also had five steals and a block as Houston extended its winning streak to four games.
LeBron James had 33 points for the Cavaliers, and Jeff Green added 27.
Houston led by seven after a layup by James with about 10 minutes left. The Rockets scored the next six points, capped by a 3-pointer by P.J. Tucker to make it 111-98. The Cavaliers used a 13-1 run, with five points from James, to cut the lead to 112-111 with 90 seconds left.
Harden missed a layup after that, but grabbed a rebound and threw an alley-oop to Clint Capela, who finished for Houston’s first basket since Tucker’s 3. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw to make it 115-11 with just over a minute remaining.
James made a layup on the other end, but Capela made another basket after a grabbing the rebound on a miss by Harden to put Houston back up by four with 10.7 seconds left.
Capela, who finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, blocked a shot by James in the final seconds to secure the win.
“We expect him to do that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said about Capela’s solid performance. “He’s 23 years old. There’s no reason why he can’t keep getting better.”
The Cavaliers have lost six of their last eight games, leaving James to answer questions about why they’re struggling.
“We played a pretty good game, but I’m not here for moral victories,” he said. “That’s not what I’m about.”
Harden has scored 30 or more points in three of the last four games, highlighted by a 56-point performance in a win over the Jazz on Sunday. It’s the second triple-double of the season for Harden and the 33rd of his career.
“I thought our guys really scrapped and competed,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “But Harden was Harden. He made some tough, contested 3s off the dribble, which we wanted. We contested all of them, but he made some big shots.”
Wizards 111, Lakers 95
In Washington, John Wall’s Wizards managed to make a double-digit edge hold up against the Lakers this time, with the All-Star point guard scoring 23 points and Bradley Beal 22 as Washington beat Los Angeles and cold-shooting Lonzo Ball.
Ball had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. But the No. 2 overall draft pick out of UCLA came in making just 29.5 percent of his field-goal attempts for the Lakers and he was worse against the Wizards, going 3-for-12 — 25 percent.
Raptors 122, Pelicans 118
In Toronto, DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, Serge Ibaka had 19 and the Raptors beat New Orleans for their fifth straight win over the Pelicans.
Kyle Lowry scored six of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Jonas Valanciunas had 13 rebounds.
Kings 109, 76ers 108
In Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox made a 5.8-meter jumper with 13.4 seconds remaining to lift the Kings over Philadelphia, ending a five-game winning streak for the 76ers that marked their longest in six years.
Philadelphia center Joel Embiid missed a shot from the free throw line as time expired.
Nuggets 102, Thunder 94
In Denver, Emmanuel Mudiay scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the period.
Paul Milsap added 17 points and Nikola Jokic had 15 points to go with 11 rebounds for Denver. The Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak at home to the Thunder, including a 106-105 setback April 9 on a last-second 3-pointer by Russell Westbrook that eliminated Denver from playoff contention.