James Harden scored a career-high 51 points on Wednesday to lift the Houston Rockets to a 115-111 NBA victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Howard’s electrifying performance, less than a fortnight after he scored 50 points against the Denver Nuggets on March 19, further bolstered his claim to Most Valuable Player honors.

He connected on 16 of his 25 shots from the field. That included making eight of nine attempts from three-point range to match his career high, and he drained 11 of 13 free-throw attempts.

The playoff-bound Rockets notched their 51st victory of the season. Their fifth win in six games pulled them level with the Memphis Grizzlies for the second seed in Western Conference and first place in the Southwest Division.

Trevor Ariza scored 22 points and Terrence Jones, back in action after being sidelined with a collapsed lung, added 16 points and seven rebounds in the triumph.

DeMarcus Cousins produced a triple-double for the Kings in the setback, scoring 24 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists.

Cousins also tied his career high for blocks with six.

A three-point play by Harden gave Houston a 112-102 lead with 4:04 to play, but the Kings weren’t done.

A jump shot by Cousins was followed by a three-pointer from Ben McLemore, which cut the deficit to 112-107.

The Rockets rebuilt the lead to 115-107 with 1:22 remaining.

But Sacramento’s Jason Thompson made two free throws and after a turnover by Houston’s Jones Omri Casspi’s layup with 52.2 seconds left made it 115-111.

Both teams came up empty on their next possessions, and Harden missed two free throws with less than 10 seconds left. But time ran out for Sacramento.

Harden joined Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving as the only other NBA player with multiple 50-point games this season.

Irving scored 55 points in a win over Portland in January and 57 in a 128-125 overtime triumph over San Antonio on March 12. – Agence France-Presse

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