- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) - The Houston Rockets played again without Dwight Howard. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Cavaliers, James Harden was in the building.

Harden scored 37 points, including 17 in the third quarter, and the Rockets led from wire-to-wire in a 118-111 victory on Saturday night.

With Howard out for a third straight game because of a sore left ankle, Harden provided a boost. He was 9 of 15 from the field, hit five 3-pointers, made all 14 of his free throws and had 11 assists without playing the fourth quarter after Houston built a 29-point lead late in the third.

“Great players do that, they get going,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I’ve seen James do it countless times, but that’s what separates him from a lot of players. He has the ability to do that.”

Harden dominated in just about every aspect of the game. He drove to the basket, buried shots from well beyond the 3-point line, converted free throws and found open teammates.

“I just tried to be aggressive and be in attack mode to get to the rim,” he said. “If the drive is there, I take it. If it’s not, I’ll do something else. I just use my basketball instincts.”

Cleveland has lost four straight and played again without point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been sidelined for three games with a strained left biceps.

Houston made its first four shots and took a quick lead in snapping a three-game road losing streak. The Rockets also strengthened their hold on the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

Chandler Parsons scored 16 points for Houston while Patrick Beverly added 15.

Dion Waiters led Cleveland with 26 points. Tyler Zeller added a career-high 23 points for the Cavaliers, who also played without forward Luol Deng (sprained left ankle).

The Rockets played their reserves for most of the fourth and Cleveland cut into the margin.

Harden had eight points and eight assists in the first quarter, which saw Cleveland coach Mike Brown call timeout twice in the first four minutes as Houston took a 17-4 lead.

The margin reached 15 points in the second period and Houston shot 59 percent in the first half.

Cleveland scored the first seven points of the third quarter to cut the lead to 67-62, but Harden’s five free throws sparked a 9-0 run and the Rockets regained control. His four-point play pushed the lead to 87-70.

Harden hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key moments later, then added a dunk and another 3-pointer as the lead reached 101-72.

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