James Harden returned from injury with a game-high 35 points to lead the Houston Rockets to an emphatic 130-104 win over the high-flying Denver Nuggets.
The 30-year-old guard had missed his first game of the season after suffering a sprained toe but he was back with a bang as Houston, fourth in the Western Conference, ran out easy victors over their second-placed conference rivals.
Denver, who had won nine of their previous 10 games, fought back from 69-52 down at half-time to reduce the gap to five points, but Houston powered away in the final period, outscoring their opponents 38-15.
Harden and Westbrook combine for 63pts in the big win!
Vote James and Russ into the 2020 #NBAAllStar Game.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 1, 2020
Harden received good support from Russell Westbrook, whose 28-point haul was his 11th successive game of 20 points or more – the longest such streak by a Rockets player, aside from Harden, since Yao Ming clocked up 14 on the trot in 2006.
The Boston Celtics, second in the Eastern Conference, improved their record to 23-8 with a comfortable 109-92 win at the Charlotte Hornets.
Jayson Tatum finished with 24 points, Kemba Walker scored 22 and Gordon Hayward added 21 points and 10 rebounds as Boston won their sixth game in seven.
We responded to adversity yet again and closed out 2019 on a high note with a 109-92 victory over the Hornets. pic.twitter.com/2BSLRfgsdm
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 1, 2020
PJ Washington led the scoring on a below-par night for Charlotte with 15 points, as the 10th-placed Hornets lost their sixth match in a row.
A tight game was expected between Indianapolis and Philadelphia but the Pacers strolled to a 115-97 home court victory.
Domantas Sabonis contributed 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while TJ Warren scored 21 points as the Pacers ended a three-game losing streak.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 1, 2020
Indianapolis finished with seven players scoring in double-figures, compared to just two for Philadelphia – Josh Richardson (20) and Ben Simmons (18) – as the 76ers, who were missing injured centre Joel Embiid, lost their third successive game.
In other games on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Clippers won 105-87 at the Sacramento Kings, the Toronto Raptors crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-97, the San Antonio Spurs won 117-113 after overtime against the Golden State Warriors, and the Oklahoma City Thunder claimed a 106-101 victory against the Dallas Mavericks.