James Harden scored 34 points and the Houston Rockets spoiled Blake Griffin’s NBA return from a right elbow injury by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 100-98 on Sunday.

Harden, the league’s second-best scorer behind former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook, also contributed seven rebounds and seven assists as the Rockets solidified their grip on fourth place in the Western Conference.

Houston improved to 44-22 while the Clippers slid into a share of fifth with the Dallas Mavericks at 42-25.

Griffin scored 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, passed out eight assists, made two steals and blocked a shot in 41 minutes on the court after missing the Clippers’ previous 15 games since February 6 with an infection in his right elbow.

The Clippers went 9-6 since Griffin, averaging a team-best 22.5 points a game, underwent surgery last month.

Houston beat the Clippers last month to snap a six-game losing streak in the rivalry and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Deadlocked at 96-96, the game turned on Terrence Jones’s 3-pointer that gave the Rockets a 99-96 lead. Matt Barnes answered with a layup for the Clippers but the hosts could not equalize.

Harden went 1-of-2 at the free throw line to produce the final margin and set up the Clippers’ last gasp effort, but Chris Paul was tightly covered defensively by Houston’s Trevor Ariza and missed a baseline jumper at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

“We made some big plays at the end and got the win,” Harden said. “Trevor Ariza has been doing it for us all year — one-on-one defense against Chris Paul is difficult but he did a great job.”

Ariza added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets while Jones scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Paul led the Clippers with 23 points while Matt Barnes added 19 points, J.J. Redick contributed 15 points and DeAndre Jordan pulled down 20 rebounds. – Agence France-Presse

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