HOUSTON — When the shots weren’t falling, James Harden helped the Houston Rockets find a new way to score.
Harden had 31 points and seven assists to lead the Rockets to a 104-92 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.
When he couldn’t find a rhythm from beyond the arc, Harden took to the paint, where he scored 16 of his points. For a team that ranks second only to New York in 3-pointers attempted and made, Houston outscored New Orleans 60-28 in the paint.
“I think that shows the maturity that we’re growing and that we’re getting better,” Harden said. “Sometimes our offense isn’t on point, but we’re finding ways to score.”
Harden has led the Rockets in scoring for 14 straight games, not including a Dec. 10 loss to San Antonio where he was sidelined with an ankle injury. He has posted 20-plus points in a career-best 14 straight games, second only to Kobe Bryant for the league’s longest such streak this season.
Omer Asik had 21 points and eight rebounds, and forward Patrick Patterson scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds in the game for the Rockets.
Harden and Asik combined to score 18 of Houston’s 25 third-quarter points.
Reserve Ryan Anderson had 18 points, and Greivis Vasquez had the third double-double of his last four games with 15 points and 14 assists for New Orleans, which lost for the 14th time in the last 16 games.
Just two days after hitting a season-high 16 3-pointers in a victory over Atlanta, the Rockets went cold from beyond the arc. Houston made a season-low five 3s on 24 attempts (20.8 percent.).
“They didn’t hit the 3s that they normally hit, but they just kept attacking our guards,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “They played in our paint all night long.”
The Rockets led 49-44 at halftime, falling short of 50 first-half points for just the second time in the last nine games. Houston entered Wednesday’s game second in the league in scoring with 105.8 points per game.
“We’re going to take a lot of 3s,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “It’s just how our offense is and how our personnel is. We do live and die by that a little bit.”
Anderson tied the game for New Orleans at 82 on a 3-pointer with less than seven minutes remaining, but Houston followed with a 10-2 run.
“They shoot the ball so well and when they run, they can capitalize very quickly,” Williams said. “We just got beat up in the fourth quarter and weren’t able to come back.”
Chandler Parsons finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for Houston, and Jeremy Lin had nine points and seven assists.
In addition to Anderson, Jason Smith and Brian Roberts also scored in double-figures off the bench for New Orleans.
New Orleans was without guard Eric Gordon, who had spent most of the season recovering from a knee injury before making his season debut last Saturday. Gordon scored 11 points Tuesday night, but Williams rested him as a precaution and said he expected Gordon to return when the Hornets visit Dallas on Saturday.
Rookie Austin Rivers started in place of Gordon and finished with only four points and one assist in 17 minutes. Rivers made just one of six free throws, and New Orleans finished 11 of 20 from the free throw line.
“We have some young guys who have never been in this position before and they’re overwhelmed,” Williams said. “I wish the season started today because we’d be in a lot better shape, record-wise. Guys are frustrated, but I see tons of growth and this is going to help us going forward.”
The Rockets visit Milwaukee on Friday to begin a stretch where they will play nine of their next 11 games on the road. Houston is 5-8 on the road and 13-6 at home.