James Harden's 24 points help Rockets beat Wizards 99-91

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, right, hangs from the rim after dunking the ball in front of Washington Wizards center Kevin Seraphin (13), from France, in the second half. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

One game after clinching a playoff berth, the Rockets delayed the Wizards' bid to secure their own spot, beating Washington 99-91 Sunday behind James Harden's 24 points.

Houston entered the day third in the Western Conference, a half-game behind No. 2 Memphis. Washington is fifth in the East and still had a chance to end Sunday with a guaranteed place in the postseason, depending on results of later games.

Corey Brewer scored 15 for Houston, including pairing with Pablo Prigioni for consecutive 3-pointers that pushed the lead back up to 85-75 with 8 minutes left after Washington had pulled within four.

Houston's Dwight Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes in his third game back from a right knee injury.

Harden only made 7 of 20 shots but went 9 for 10 at the foul line. He added six assists and one into-the-stands block of Bradley Beal's 3-point try with 25 seconds left.

Trevor Ariza, who left Washington as a free agent after last season, contributed 13 points, eight rebounds and active defense for Houston, which led by as many as 16 in the first half.

As if making a personal push to get his listless Wizards headed back in the right direction, John Wall finished with 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, but it wasn't enough for a team that has lost five of its past six games.

Little-used reserve Otto Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, helped the Wizards make things close after they were down 59-46 at halftime. He had 15 points and six rebounds, replacing Paul Pierce, who shot 1 for 6 and had two points.

Washington's problems on offense continued for long stretches, and it shot 29.2 percent in the first quarter, 38.7 percent for the game.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said about an hour before tipoff that Howard's status would be a game-time decision - and that he would either play Sunday or against Toronto on Monday, but not both days of the back-to-back set.

"It's more his body and how it responds to what we're asking him to do right now," McHale said.

The Rockets clinched their third consecutive playoff berth Friday night, when they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-110. In that game, Howard played 21 minutes, scoring 18 points while shooting 8 for 9.

On Sunday, he went to the sideline after picking up his second personal foul less than 4 minutes into the game and only ended up with six shots, making three.

Still, the Rockets' winning streak reached four games, and they've taken seven of their past eight.

TIP-INS

Rockets: The Wizards PR department gave Ariza an enlarged black-and-white photo showing him in a Washington uniform, dribbling against LeBron James (in a Miami Heat uniform). The photo used to hang in a hallway in the Wizards' arena. Ariza also was given a bouquet of flowers. ... Terrence Jones was not with the team because of a collapsed lung, while Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas and Kostas Papanikolaou were inactive.

Wizards: Asked whether it's important to beat some "quality" opponents before the playoffs, coach Randy Wittman replied: "We're not worried about quality, we're worried about wins." ... Three reserves were missing - Kris Humphries and Garrett Temple were sidelined with injuries, while DeJuan Blair was out for personal reasons. ... The game was a sellout, with an announced attendance of 20,356.

UP NEXT:

Rockets: At Toronto on Monday.

Wizards: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday.
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