HOUSTON — James Harden grinned as he jogged past courtside fan and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon after one of his improbable buckets Tuesday night against Washington.
“He said, `It looked too easy,” Harden said. “I’m sure he probably felt that same way when he was playing.”
Harden had 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, leading the Houston Rockets to a 120-104 victory over the Wizards.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before the game that Harden, whom he coached for three years in Oklahoma City, is deserving of the league’s MVP award this season. Harden then showed again, narrowly missing his fifth triple-double of the season.
“It was a great player playing special,” Brooks said. “He had everything going. We tried switching, we tried trapping. We tried everything on him.”
With the Toyota Center crowd chanting “MVP! MVP!” late in the fourth quarter, Harden put on a show on three straight possessions. He drained two deep step-back jumpers and was fouled on a reverse layup that he kissed off the glass and in for a three-point play.
At 63-15, the Rockets already clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs but weren’t interested in losing any momentum against Washington.
Houston led by as many as 24 points, was ahead 71-49 lead at the half and entered the fourth up 95-75.
Clint Capela had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Houston, while Gerald Green had 16 points off the bench on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc and one authoritative two-handed slam in the fourth.
Green, who was signed to a non-guaranteed contract in late December, has suddenly emerged as a key reserve off the bench for the already deep Rockets.
“I didn’t envision it because he was lying on his couch,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Obviously, he’s earned a lot of trust from everybody. He’s a heck of a good player. We got lucky with him, very lucky.”
Bradley Beal led Washington with 27 points, while Markieff Morris had 14 and Otto Porter, Jr. added 12.
“It’s tough, but that is an elite ballclub over there, and I respect what they do and how they play the game,” Beal said. “They beat us. That’s what they’re capable of doing on a nightly basis. We kind of took this one on the chin.”
In just his second game back following knee surgery in January, John Wall had nine points and 10 assists in 33 minutes, shooting 3 for 10 from the floor. After helping the Wizards clinch a playoff berth in his first game back in two months on Saturday, Wall sat out Sunday’s loss at Chicago.
Brooks said he encouraged Wall to continue pushing the tempo and working to get back in game shape.
The Wizards fell to 20-19 on the road this season after their fourth straight road loss. They’ve lost by an average of 13.5 points in that skid.
“We couldn’t find anything on the offensive end,” Brooks said. “You’ve got to be able to score against this team because they put up so many points. Tonight, we just didn’t have enough to match their scoring.”
After Brooks was dissatisfied with the Wizards’ perimeter defense in allowing 18 3s on 34 attempts on Sunday in Chicago, Washington showed little improvement on Tuesday, as Houston made 16 of 46 from 3.
Washington fell into a tie with Milwaukee for seventh place in the East.
“No matter who we play, we have to go out there and compete,” Wall said. “It doesn’t matter in the fifth seed, sixth seed, fourth seed, seventh, eighth seed — every matchup is going to be tough. No playoff game is going to be easy and every guy in here understands that.”
Wizards: Washington committed 17 turnovers, while Houston had just nine. … Washington was outscored 17-2 on second-chance points and 12-10 on fast-break points.
Rockets: F Ryan Anderson sprained his left ankle in the second quarter after landing awkwardly on a defensive play. Anderson went to the locker room with a slight limp and did not return to the game. … With SF Trevor Ariza out for the game for rest purposes, Luc Mbah a Moute started in his place and had nine points in 28 minutes.
Houston improved to 33-6 at home and won its 19th straight at the Toyota Center with two home games remaining in the regular season. The franchise record for consecutive home wins is 21, spread across the end of the 1984-85 and start of the 1985-86 season. The record within a single season is 20.
Capela took an elbow to the left eye late on a contact play late in the fourth quarter and said his vision was briefly blurred before it finally cleared up. When asked if he might consider trying to wear protective goggles like Olajuwon did early in his career, Capela shook his head and said, “It’s not 1984 anymore.”
HE SAID IT
“You’re either going to sink or swim, and I ain’t trying to sink. I can barely swim anyway. I’m going to doggie-paddle if I have to.” — Green on his opportunity with the Rockets.
DESHAUN WATSON’S SHOT
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was the celebrity guest for the Rockets’ pregame “First Shot” attempt. Wearing a white Olajuwon jersey from the 1994 All-Star Game, Watson’s free throw attempt clanked off the front of the rim despite impressive form. Watson is still recovering from a torn right ACL injury that cut his 2017 rookie season short.
Wizards: Visit Cleveland on Thursday night.
Rockets: Host Portland on Thursday night.