LOS ANGELES: Houston star James Harden played down talk of being this season’s NBA MVP after his latest high-scoring triple-double on Tuesday as the Cleveland Cavaliers stumbled to defeat against Utah.
Harden, one of several players excelling in a high-scoring season across the league, finished with 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists as Houston improved to 31-9 with a 121-114 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Rockets talisman came to Houston’s rescue after Charlotte staged a dramatic fourth quarter fightback to take a shock lead.
Houston appeared to be cruising to victory after Corey Brewer’s three-pointer gave them a 108-90 lead with around eight minutes left.
But Charlotte responded with a 21-2 rally which featured four consecutive three-pointers as the Hornets edged into a 111-110 advantage with just over two minutes to go.
Harden steadied the ship however with an assist for Ryan Anderson’s three-pointer before adding two layups to settle Houston’s nerves.
Harden’s late intervention to secure the game capped another performance likely to ensure he remains firmly in the conversation for NBA MVP.
The 27-year-old however said he is not thinking about personal glory as he spearheads Houston’s drive toward the postseason.
“As long as I play the right way and be unselfish and we win games, all of that is going to come,” Harden said of MVP speculation.
“I don’t really put too much into that or think about it too much. If it happens it happens. The most important thing is winning.”
In Salt Lake City, LeBron James scored a game-high 29 points it was not enough to prevent the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers slipping to defeat against the Jazz, who improved 24-16 with the win.
Cleveland, which fell to 28-9, was undone by a potent all-round scoring display from Utah led by Gordon Hayward with 29 points and Rodney Hood (18 points). No fewer than six Jazz players finished with double figures on the night.
While Cleveland struggled, the Golden State Warriors marched on in their home game against the Miami Heat, winning 107-95.
Kevin Durant top-scored for the Warriors with 28 points while Steph Curry had a relatively quiet night with 24 points.
The win stretched Golden State’s lead at the top of the Western Conference standings at 33-6, with San Antonio second on 30-8.
The Spurs meanwhile fell 109-107 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Beasley top-scoring for the visitors with 28 points.
In Toronto, DeMar DeRozan poured on 41 points as the Raptors snapped their two-game losing streak with a 114-106 victory over the Boston Celtics.
DeRozan grabbed 13 rebounds and made eight of nine shots from the foul line to help the Raptors improve to 25-13 at the Air Canada Center.
Toronto’s win came courtesy of a fourth quarter scoring spree which saw them go on a 19-4 run that swung the game decisively in their favor.
It was the Celtics’ first defeat in five games and saw them fall to 23-15.
DeRozan’s masterclass was backed by a stalwart display from center Jonas Valanciunas, who finished with 23 rebounds and 18 points.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey paid tribute to Los Angeles-born DeRozan’s virtuoso display.
“He’s a tough kid, he did not grow up in Compton for nothing,” Casey said.
“He’s a tough kid. More than anything else, the 41 points is nice, but 13 rebounds, the 11 defensive rebounds when we needed it...
“DeMar came in and got some big rebounds, tough rebounds, so that was impressive. That was more of a sign of grit and grind as much as the 41 points.”