James Harden and the Houston Rockets are turning into a big problem for the San Antonio Spurs.
Harden scored 28 points, while Dwight Howard had 15 points and 20 rebounds, leading the balanced Rockets to a 111-98 victory over the Spurs on Wednesday.
Each of Houston’s starters scored in double figures as the Rockets improved to 2-0 against the Spurs this season, with both victories coming on the road. They also moved within 3.5 games of San Antonio (22-7) for the lead in the Southwest Division.
“I think we can be very good,” Houston forward Chandler Parsons said.
“It’s obviously a process and we’re getting better every single day, but when we defend like that, rebound well and get out in transition, we’re tough to beat,” he said.
Harden scored 31 points in Houston’s 112-106 victory against San Antonio on Nov. 30. The Rockets have won their past three against the Spurs dating to last season and are averaging 108.8 points over the past six games in the series.
“We just didn’t give very good performances,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You can live with that from time to time. Nobody’s going to play perfect every night, but you can’t combine poor performances with a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline. They whipped us. They whipped us good. That’s an embarrassing loss.”
Parsons and Terrence Jones each scored 21 points for the Rockets (19-11), who shot 52 percent from the field.
Jeremy Lin had 13 points, eight assists, two blocked shots and just one turnover.
The Spurs have dropped two of three and split their past six games. They are just 3-6 over the past month against teams with a record above .500.
Supersub Manu Ginobili led San Antonio with 22 points, while Tim Duncan added 11 points and 14 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard had 13 points, but Tony Parker was held to six points on three-for-11 shooting.
“We didn’t play well,” Parker said. “Move on to the next one, it’s the NBA.”
San Antonio never recovered after Houston raced to a 27-9 lead. The Spurs were unable to stop Parsons’ long shots, Harden’s drives, Howard in the paint or Jones on the boards for follow ups.
“Our guys really came out on fire,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They were excited to play. Really moved the ball — attacked. Terrence had great energy. He was running and helping the defense. We really set the tone early and rode that the entire game.”
Houston led 40-25 after the first quarter. It was the most points allowed by the Spurs in the opening period this season and tied for the most in any quarter. Oklahoma City scored 40 points in the second quarter of their 13-point victory last Saturday in San Antonio.
“The first quarter was embarrassing,” Ginobili said. “They picked us apart. We were not as aggressive as they were, not as sharp as they were, and they scored 40. So it’s the second time that happened and that’s way too many.”
Ginobili slammed the scorer’s table with his right palm during a timeout with Houston leading 27-11.
After trailing by 18 points in the first half, San Antonio had a couple of solid stretches in the second half, but could not make the plays they needed to complete the rallies.
“We toughened up,” Parsons said. “We understand that this is a great team playing on their floor and we have to get some big stops. Everyone collectively bought into that, we got some huge stops and we didn’t stop running, either.”