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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets race by Lakers in second half, 113-99

Harden scores season-high tying 38 points

Posted: January 8, 2014 -- 10:47 pm CST.

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets lacked focus and aggression in the first 24 minutes Wednesday night versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Fortunately for the Rockets, they have James Harden. Harden erupted in the third quarter for 17 points as he outscored the Lakers by himself (17-15 in the quarter) to help the Rockets pull away and beat the Lakers 113-99.

"We've got to do a better job of focusing through all four quarters," Harden said after the game. "In that first half, we gave up 57 points; then, at the end of the third quarter we were up fifteen (actually, 13 - 85-72). Just mentally focused and the prepared to execute our job."

Harden scored a game-high 38 points to tie his season-high.

The Rockets (23-13) trailed the Lakers 53-42 late in the second quarter; but, a 10-4 spurt before halftime trimmed their deficit to just five points (57-52).

"We've done that a lot," said Kevin McHale of the Rockets' slow start. "We can't do that on the road. We seem to start easing into the game. We can't ease into a game -- especially on the road. We have to play a lot harder from the get-go."

The Rockets made just 10 of 27 field goals in the first quarter and trailed the Lakers 28-24 after 12 minutes.

Pau Gasol and Nick Young each scored 8 points in the second quarter to help the push the Lakers' lead to 11 (53-42) in the second quarter.

After halftime, the Rockets awakened from their slumber and played much harder and more aggressive on offense and defense.

"Our defense got a lot better," Dwight Howard said. "We were moving our feet; and we were talking more. In the first half, we didn't talk at all on defense; and, they were scoring at will. We did a better job in the second half of trying to stop the pick and roll game; and, we didn't allow (Kendall) Marshall to get into the paint and make plays for a lot of guys."

"We played a lot harder and just got more aggressive," McHale said. "We got up into them (the Lakers). We didn't have as many breakdowns. In the first half, we had a lot of individual breakdowns on drives and just one-on-one plays. We let them go to their strong hand; and, they broke us down. It was really easy (for the Lakers).

"We did a better job in the second half defending. Needless to say, it was a big difference in the game."

The Lakers shot 22 for 48 (45.8%) in the first half; but, they only made 14 of 40 field goals (35.0%) in the second half.

With 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers resorted to "Hack-A-Howard" strategy. During the strategy (which lasted until 2:04 left in the quarter), Howard made 7 of 16 free throws. Howard made 10 of 24 foul shots for the game.

The Rockets attempted 50 free throws in the game and made 28.

Harden's 38 points is the third consecutive game he's scored 37 or more points. Harden becomes the first Rockets' player to score at least 37 points in three consecutive games since Hakeem Olajuwaon back in 1994-'95 (42 on Dec. 29, 1994; 37 on Dec. 30 and 41 on Jan. 3, 1995).

Harden says he's healthy and focused.

"My feet have been feeling better," said Harden. "My three ball is feeling good. I was just staying in attack mode."

Nick Young scored a team-high 25 points for the Lakers.

The Rockets have overcome a double-digit deficit in each of their last seven wins over the Lakers dating back to the 2009-2010 season.

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