James Harden wouldn’t admit he was thinking about last season in Houston’s first game against Portland since the Trail Blazers eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in the first round.
Dwight Howard was certain he was.
‘‘I know it’s kind of like a weight off his back because of what happened in the playoffs against Portland,’’ Howard said. ‘‘And [Monday] he just destroyed them.’’
Harden scored a season-high 44 points to help the Rockets cruise to a 110-95 victory in Houston and snap a two-game skid.
‘‘Last year, nah. What happened the last two games,’’ Harden said when asked if he had a chip on his shoulder from the early playoff exit. ‘‘Two losses at home is unacceptable, so we wanted to come out here and not make it a third.’’
The Trail Blazers were without leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the game with an upper-respiratory illness, and had their five-game winning streak snapped.
It was Harden’s NBA-leading third 40-point game this season, with all of them coming this month.
Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring, has had 11 games with at least 30 points this season, which also leads the league.
‘‘He played really well,’’ coach Kevin McHale said. ‘‘That was about as much juice and energy that we’ve played with in a long time.’’
Jazz 97, Grizzlies 91 — Alec Burks scored 23 points, Gordon Hayward added 21, and visiting Utah handed Memphis its third straight loss.
Hornets 110, Nuggets 82 — Al Jefferson scored 22 points, Kemba Walker added 18 points and nine assists, and host Charlotte extended its winning streak to a season-high three games.
Bulls 129, Raptors 120 — Derrick Rose scored 29 points, Jimmy Butler added 27 points and 11 rebounds, and host Chicago snapped Toronto’s six-game winning streak. Rose scored 15 of the Bulls’ franchise-record 49 points in the fourth quarter.
Hawks 105, Mavericks 102 — Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 22 points and visiting Atlanta held off Dallas. Rajon Rondo had 13 points and 11 assists for the Mavericks.
Spurs 125, Clippers 118 — Tony Parker scored 26 points in his return from a five-game absence, igniting host San Antonio over Los Angeles.
Warriors 128, Kings 108 — Klay Thompson scored 25 points and Festus Ezeli scored a career-high 15 points to go with six rebounds in place of injured center Andrew Bogut as host Golden State stretched its NBA-best record to 23-3.