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Houston Rockets take 3-0 series lead behind James Harden's 42 points

Houston Rockets defeat Dallas Mavericks, 130-128, in Game 3 of first-round NBA playoffs series

James Harden scored a playoff career-high 42 points, Dwight Howard had his postseason best with 26 rebounds and the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks, 130-128, on Friday night in Dallas for a 3-0 lead in their first-round series.

The most-valuable-player candidate played a dominating role after deferring to Howard and role players in the first two wins, putting the Rockets on the verge of their first playoff series victory since Howard joined Harden two years ago.

The high-scoring game was Dallas' first without effectively banished point guard Rajon Rondo, and Monta Ellis had a playoff career-high 34 points to match Dirk Nowitzki.

But Ellis missed a potential tying jumper just before the buzzer, leaving Dallas to face a fourth straight year without winning a postseason series since taking the franchise's first championship.

Game 4 is Sunday at Dallas. No team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA postseason series.

Harden set his playoff career high and hit 40 points with a three-point play on a layup after Dallas had cut an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to one.

After Harden fouled Nowitzki on a three-point attempt and the big German hit all the free throws, Harden hit a jumper over Tyson Chandler. The ball rattled off the rim, hit the backboard and dropped back in for a 129-126 lead with 12.7 seconds remaining.

The Mavericks had one more chance, trailing by two with 6.7 seconds left, but Ellis wasn't close, missing to the right of the rim.

More concerned with protecting the rim after Howard and Josh Smith combined for five dunks off alley-oop passes in a key run in Game 2, the Mavericks let Harden have his shots. He found a rhythm and did most of his damage without his normal load of free throws, making 15 of 24 from the field.

Howard had 14 of Houston's 23 rebounds in the first half and helped on the offensive end in the fourth quarter, getting seven of his 13 points.

When Dallas focused on slowing Harden in the second half, Corey Brewer hit two corner threes and scored 13 of his 15 points. Harden had nine assists, including a nifty pass for an easy dunk by Smith, who had 18 points.

at Washington 106, Toronto 99: John Wall drew choruses of "M-V-P!" from the crowd by producing 19 points and 15 assists, 37-year-old Paul Pierce hit two key late three-pointers, and the Wizards closed in on a first-round playoff sweep by beating the Raptors.

Six Wizards scored in double figures, including Marcin Gortat, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Pierce's 18 points were highlighted by one three-pointer that capped a 10-2 run with 2 minutes left, and another with 16.3 seconds remaining after Toronto got within three points.

After the second, Pierce turned to the stands with arms aloft, nodded and yelled, "That's why I'm here!"

The Wizards lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series, 3-0, and can end it Sunday, when they host Game 4.

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