James Harden scores 41, most points on Christmas in eight years

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Just a couple days ago, the Thunder were staking their claim as the Western Conference’s second-best team.

The Rockets haven’t surrendered their case.

Continuing to dig out of its dismal start to the season, Houston beat Oklahoma City,¬†113-109, in their Christmas showdown. James Harden scored 41 points, the most in a Christmas game since Kevin Durant scored 44 in 2010. That was the only time an active player matched Harden’s 41 on Christmas.

The Rockets have won seven of eight, Harden averaging 38.5 points and 8.5 assists per game in that stretch. It’s not too late for him to reenter the MVP conversation.

Harden hoisted 35 shots today, making just 15 (including just 5-of-16 on 3-pointers). But Houston needed him to assume a heavy load with Chris Paul sidelined.

Clint Capela (16 points and 23 rebounds, including 10 offensive) cleaned up a lot of those misses. Newcomer Austin Rivers also helped the Rockets, hitting a couple late 3-pointers and defending Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook (21 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and four steals) and Paul George (28 points, 14 rebounds and three steals) were very good. And it’s not as if their supporting cast really let them down.

The West is just that good, and Houston belongs firmly among the leading challengers to the Warriors.