NEW ORLEANS — Trevor Ariza bothered the New Orleans Pelicans with his defence. He beat them with his offence.
Ariza had a season-high 31 points and James Harden scored 35, leading the hot-shooting Houston Rockets past the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans 112-111 on Monday night.
The Pelicans played the second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, who had only nine points on 4-of-9 shooting with Ariza as his primary defender before leaving late in the second quarter after getting elbowed in the head by teammate Tyreke Evans.
"I’m sure he (Davis)’ll go through the (concussion) protocol," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "We’ll find out later on exactly what the situation is."
Houston, which did not have centre Dwight Howard for the third straight game due to a left ankle sprain, hit a season-high 19 3-pointers. Ariza connected on his first six 3s, finished with eight and went 11 for 16 overall one night after scoring what was then a season-best 29 on 11-of-15 shooting against Dallas.
"I'm just making shots," he said. "I don't think I am really doing anything different. What's been working for us is the game has more of a flow to it. The ball's been moving a lot better than it has previously."
The Rockets have lacked a consistent scorer to complement Harden, but Ariza is emerging as an all-around threat.
"He's a monster," Harden said. "He doesn't get enough credit."
Jrue Holiday scored a season-high 32 points for the Pelicans, adding nine assists and six rebounds. He had a chance to win the game after New Orleans got the ball with 4.7 seconds left. Out of timeouts, the Pelicans had to go the length of the court, and Holiday's contested 35-foot shot at the buzzer did not come close.
Ariza hit a pair of 3-pointers as Houston scored the first 18 points of the third quarter to go ahead 76-60, and the Rockets appeared ready to coast to a win in Davis' absence. But New Orleans closed with a 13-3 run at the end of the quarter, including Norris Cole's running, 30-foot bank shot at the buzzer to pull the Pelicans within 93-92.
"They fought back, and we knew they were going to make a run," Harden said. "They are a good team, especially at home."
Neither team led by more than three in the fourth quarter. Houston went ahead for good when Patrick Beverley drained a 3-pointer as the Rockets went up 110-109 with 1:09 left.
Harden's fadeaway made the score 112-109 before Holiday's layup closed the gap to 112-111 with 28.3 seconds left.
Harden lost the ball on Houston's next possession, regained it and shot an air ball for a shot-clock violation.
But Holiday, who tied his season high by playing 36 minutes, was guarded closely after taking an inbounds pass and could not get in range for a makeable shot as the Pelicans lost for the first time in four games.
The excitement about their near comeback was tempered by concern for Davis.
"I'm praying AD's OK," Holiday said. "I didn't see the replay, but by the crowd (reaction), it was pretty bad."
Harden finished with 11 rebounds and eight assists to go along with his 35 points.
Ryan Anderson added 22 points for the Pelicans, who had their three-game winning streak stopped. Toney Douglas scored 18.
HOWARD BACK SOON?
Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Howard might return later in the week. The game against the Pelicans was the first of a three-game road stretch.
"We plan on having him on the trip," Bickerstaff said. "He worked out today and we'll see how he responds tomorrow. He'll get an opportunity to work more tomorrow and then we'll see how it goes from there."
Howard had 10 consecutive double-doubles before his injury.
FREE THROW WOES
The Pelicans hit 13 of 28 3-pointers but were barely better than that from the free throw line, making 14 of 25. Their struggles included four misses in their first five attempts during the fourth quarter and a critical one by Holiday late that could have given them a 3-point lead.
Houston sank 17 of 21 free throws.
Rockets: The Rockets have won nine of 12 and are three games above .500 (25-22) for the first time this year. ... Houston has taken four of the last five against New Orleans.
Pelicans: New Orleans had been 0-5 in games Davis missed this year. It also lost to Indiana when he left with a back injury early in the first quarter. ... Forward Dante Cunningham returned after missing Saturday's game against Milwaukee.
Rockets: at San Antonio on Wednesday
Pelicans: host Sacramento on Thursday