NBA Basketball

Final 1 2 3 4 Tot
Denver 17 23 27 28 95
Houston 36 39 26 24 125
5:00 PM PT6:00 PM MT7:00 PM CT8:00 PM ET1:00 GMT9:00 6:00 PM MST8:00 PM EST5:00 UAE (+1)02:0020:00 ET7:00 PM CTNaN:� , November 22, 2017
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas  Attendance: 18,055

Paul, Harden help Houston bounce Nuggets

(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

(TSX / STATS) -- HOUSTON -- Those anxiously awaiting the moment where Rockets guard Chris Paul struggles to acclimate with his new teammates might want to eschew holding their breath in the interim.

Paul, making his home debut in his fourth game, and his backcourt mate James Harden paced a dazzling first-half blitz before Trevor Ariza stifled a Denver Nuggets rally in the third quarter as the Houston Rockets rolled to a 125-95 victory on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.

Harden and Paul combined for 44 points and 21 assists, producing 34 points on 10-for-15 shooting prior to intermission as the Rockets (14-4) raced to a 35-point halftime lead. When Will Barton (20 points) and Nikola Jokic (17 points) helped Denver (10-8) cut the deficit to 81-60 midway through the third, Ariza responded with 11 consecutive points to re-establish control.

Ariza finished with a season-high 25 points, hitting 7 of 10 3-pointers as the Rockets made 18 of 41 3s despite playing without a pair of their top marksmen, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

"Yeah, tonight was my night," Ariza said to a chorus of laughs. "Those guys are out, call on me. I'll get it right for you."

Paul was instrumental in that accuracy, too, shooting 4 for 7 from deep while pairing 12 assists with his 23 points in 28 minutes. All the concerns over whether he could play alongside Harden have proven to be folly thus far, with Paul looking better and better with each outing after missing 14 games with a left knee injury he re-aggravated in the opener at Golden State.

Harden cooled in the second half but still had 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Despite missing its first six shots, Houston shot 54.9 percent with Harden and Paul coauthoring its attack, slicing the Denver defense to ribbons with accurate passes to wide open shooters.

"Because it's the pick-and-roll," Paul said when asked why his transition has gone so smoothly. "We play, we play fast and I think I know a little bit about the pick-and-roll.

"The cool thing about is the way that we play it doesn't matter who's out, who's playing. We're going to play that same way. We'd like for everybody to be playing but we're going to try to play fast, defend and run and take open shots."

Following the frigid start, Paul ignited the blaze with a 10-footer at the 8:23 mark of the first. Houston didn't look back, connecting on its ensuing 13 field goals en route to a 36-point period.

Harden ended that torrid stretch by misfiring on a 3 late in the frame, but the Rockets resumed their red-hot shooting in the second quarter, going 13 for 18 overall in that period.

"You have to give them credit," Barton said. "They played well and we knew we couldn't come out and get behind in the first quarter, and we did. They just made a lot of shots. We have to play better defense."

Paul sank two 3s and scored on a driving layup to extend the Houston lead to 46-21. He scored 11 points in the second period while Harden added 10, with the Rockets receiving an additional boost from reserve center Nene, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and five assists in only 19 minutes.

Luc Mbah a Moute also recorded 13 off the Houston bench plus four steals, and was a whopping plus-57 in 25 minutes, a stat emblematic of the runaway triumph.

The Rockets tallied the first 13 points of the fourth quarter and led by as many as 48 points.

"That's a great addition for this team," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Paul. "People were worried after the first game whether they could play together, Chris Paul and James Harden, but they're going to be fine. Trust me, Chris will make sure he does whatever he has to help James and the team win as many games as possible."

NOTES: Nuggets F Paul Millsap opted for surgery to correct a left wrist ligament injury and will be sidelined for at least three months. Millsap, who sustained the injury Sunday against the Lakers, signed a 3-year, $90 million deal with the Nuggets on July 13. ... The Rockets were without a pair of rotation players: F Ryan Anderson (illness) and G Eric Gordon (calf strain). P.J. Tucker replaced Anderson in the starting lineup. Houston also recalled Briante Weber, Zhou Qi and Troy Williams from the RGV Vipers of the G League. ... Rockets G Chris Paul remains on a minutes restriction with a cap of roughly 28 minutes per game.

Updated November 23, 2017

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