Sports

Harden, Rockets eliminate Mavs

Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - James Harden and the Houston Rockets are headed to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Harden scored 28 points and came up with a big 3-pointer and steal down the stretch as Houston finished off the Dallas Mavericks in five games with a 103-94 victory.

The Rockets advanced past the first round for the first time since 2009 and will play the winner of the ongoing Clippers-Spurs series.

"Our work is far from over," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. "We have a lot of work to do."

Harden received plenty of support from his supporting cast. Dwight Howard totaled 18 points and 19 rebounds, Josh Smith netted 20 points off the bench and Terrence Jones scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Houston moved on despite turning it over 21 times and missing nearly half of their free throws (19-of-36).

The Mavs, who have not won a playoff series since winning the title in 2011, were led by Monta Ellis' 25 points. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 22 points and 14 boards but missed 15 shots and all six of his 3-point tries.

"We kept getting in striking distance, but they kept making plays," Mavericks center Tyson Chandler said. "You have to give them credit."

Even though there were no lead changes after the first quarter, Dallas did not go down quietly. What was once a 14-point deficit was trimmed to 88-85 on a J.J. Barea jumper with just over five minutes left in regulation.

The Rockets, as they did all series, had an answer.

Jones converted a three-point play, then drained a 3-pointer on successive possessions, and Houston suddenly led by nine.

"When it mattered I tried to step up and make plays," Jones said.

Nowitzki's uncontested layup pulled Dallas within five, but Harden's step-back 3-pointer with a hand in his face, followed by his steal and no-look pass to Jones for a dunk all but sealed the outcome.

Al-Farouq Aminu, in Dallas' starting lineup for the second straight game, appeared to spark the Mavs late in the first quarter when he threw down consecutive dunks in transition to pull them within three.

Houston called a timeout, though, and scored the next eight points, with Smith banking in a 3-pointer and Corey Brewer making one from the corner for a 31-22 cushion.

The lead grew to 12 with under five minutes left in the half before the Rockets' mistakes -- turnovers and missed free throws -- began catching up.

Devin Harris' pullup jumper made it a one-possession game inside the final minute, and Harden's 3-pointer off a miss free throw -- one of nine missed by Houston in the half -- sent the hosts into the break with a 56-50 lead.

After turning it over 15 times in the first half, the Rockets only coughed it up once in the third quarter. Howard highlighted a 16-4 run with an emphatic putback slam after getting away with a push-off, and the three-minute stretch turned a two-point game into a 75-61 Houston lead.

Game Notes

The Rockets again won the battle in the paint, 52-36, and scored 21 second- chance points to Dallas' nine ... The Mavs shot 38.0 percent from the field and 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from 3-point range ... Howard also recorded four blocks, while Harden handed out eight assists ... Aminu checked in with 14 points, nine rebounds and five steals before fouling out.