NBA: James Harden returns and helps Rockets get past Timberwolves

Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets’ lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on three-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.


Gordon’s three-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including seven of 13 from three, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza’s place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers.

Jimmy Butler led Minnesota with 23 points, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 points and 16 rebounds and five blocks. It was Butler’s first trip back to his hometown near his native Tomball since joining Minnesota. Wiggins finished with 16 points.


The Timberwolves struggled to contain Houston’s 3-point shooting. The Rockets hit 17 of 39 from beyond the arc (43.6 percent), improving to 24-4 when making at least 15 threes. Minnesota has lost back-to-back games following a five-game winning streak.

Houston led Minnesota 26-17 at the end of the first and extended the lead to 63-50 at halftime, thanks in large part to closing out the second quarter on a 17-7 run in the final three minutes.

at Cleveland 76, Orlando 74: Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left for the Cavaliers, who won despite blowing a 23-point lead. Magic forward Aaron Gordon appeared to make game-winning 45-footer as the buzzer sounded, but officials ruled he comitted a jump-ball violation and gave the Cavalier possession.

Philadelphia 89, Boston 80: Joel Embiid celebrated his first NBA All-Star selection with 26 points and matched a career best with 16 rebounds for the 76ers.


at Portland 100, Indiana 86: Damian Lillard scored 26 points and Jusuf Nurkic added 19 points and a season-high 17rebounds for the Trail Blazers.