NBA scoring leader James Harden struck for 44 points Monday to power the Houston Rockets over Indiana 110-100, delivering the Pacers their sixth consecutive defeat.

Harden, who scored a career-high 50 points against Denver just four days earlier, connected on 10-of-21 shots from the floor, including 3-of-8 from 3-point range, and hit 21-of-22 attempts from the free throw line.

The Rockets improved to 47-23 with their fourth victory in five games, bouncing back from a loss Saturday at Phoenix to keep the third best record in the Western Conference and fourth-best in the league overall.

Houston, which hit 13-of-24 from beyond the 3-point arc, kept pace with Southwest division leader Memphis, remaining two games off the pace of the Grizzles, who won 103-82 at New York on Monday.

Rockets reserve Josh Smith added 18 points, Donatas Motiejunas scored 17 and Trevor Ariza grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who remain without injured center Dwight Howard but confident they can make a deep run in the playoffs.

“I feel like we could do something special this year when we get everybody healthy,” Smith said. “We’re trying to build something heading into the playoffs. We feel like we have the talent to do it. We’re ready to emotionally sacrifice for each other to do it and to get to that level.”

C.J. Watson came off the bench to score 23 points to lead Indiana while George Hill scored 20 and Roy Hibbert added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Pacers star Paul George, who suffered a broken leg last year while playing for the US world championship team, warmed up with the team but did not play. His return could come soon as the Pacers fell to 30-40, 10th in the Eastern Conference and one game behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff berth. – Agence France-Presse

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