SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Guard James Harden caught the basketball in the open court, spotted a lane and headed to the basket. Halfway there, he found the lane shut off, so he kept his dribble, peeled right and found an open spot behind the 3-point arc.
He let fly, and the basketball dropped softly through the net.
It was only the first quarter Tuesday, but already Harden and the Rockets were well en route to rollicking night. Harden scored 22 of his season-high 43 points in the opening quarter, and the Rockets ripped the Sacramento Kings 129-103 at Sleep Train Arena.
"Just me playing my game," Harden said of a night that saw him make 9 of his first 12 shots and dish out eight assists while making a mockery of the Kings' defense. "Playing my game at a high level."
He's not the only one. Houston (39-18) built a 31-point lead in the game's first 14 minutes and never were threatened. Houston scored 58 points in the paint, and scored 27 points on its fastbreak.
Center Dwight Howard added 20 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes, and Houston (39-18) won for the ninth time in 10 games. Forward Terrence Jones added 11 points and forward Chandler Parsons had 10 points and eight rebounds, as four of the Rockets' five starters scored in double-digits.
But the story was Harden, who finished 11-for-20. Houston outscored the Kings 18-2 on the break in the game's first 12 minutes, and Harden was the one directing the action. He finished off some breaks by scoring himself and finished others by setting up dunks for teammates. Houston powered down five of them while taking a 50-19 by the 9:54 mark of the second quarter, and the Kings were never closer than 18 points the rest of the way.
"Get stops and go. Get stops and go," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "That's how we play our best basketball."
Forward Rudy Gay scored 25 points to pace the Kings (20-37), who were trying to match a season-high three-game winning streak. Center DeMarcus Cousins finished with 16 points and six rebounds for Sacramento, and guard Isaiah Thomas finished with 12. The three had combined to score 92 points in a Sacramento win at Denver on Sunday.
Cousins was ejected after picking up two technical fouls in the second quarter, the second with 8:21 to go and Sacramento trailing 83-58. Cousins has been issued an NBA-high 15 technical fouls this season, and is one shy of receiving a one-game suspension. He led the NBA last season, too, collecting 17.
"It's disappointing," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "To be honest, I'm more disappointed in how we played than in any individual. Do I condone his actions? Not at all. Does he have to handle himself better? Sure he does. But for us to come out and play that way that we did in the first quarter was unacceptable."
Harden was a one-man accelerator from the outset, getting out in the open floor often in the opening period and outscoring the Kings by himself as Houston raced to a 42-17 advantage. It was the Rockets' highest-scoring quarter of the season.
"We wanted to get stops and get into transition," Harden said. "We were able to establish the tempo we wanted."
The Rockets, who rank third in the NBA in scoring at just more than 106 per contest, reached the century mark before the end of the third quarter and won for the 17th straight time when scoring at least 100 points. Houston led 69-51 at halftime, its third-highest scoring first half of the campaign, and improved improved to 18-3 this season, when it puts up at least 60 in the opening half.
"For us to come out here after two solid wins, having played very good defense, not ready to play -- I can't put my finger on it," Malone said. "I don't know why we did that. I know it's not acceptable."
Harden entered the final quarter needing just a 3-pointer to match his career-high of 46 set against Oklahoma City on Feb. 20, 2013. But with a showdown looming with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, McHale kept his team's leading scorer on ice.
"I wanted it," Harden said of the career-high. "But coach did the right thing. We had a big lead, and a big game (Wednesday)."
Reggie Evans, acquired from the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 19 for guard Marcus Thornton, made his home debut for Sacramento and scored eight points. Rookie guard Ray McCallum played a season-high 24 minutes and matched his career-bests with six points and four rebounds.
NOTES: Kings G Jimmer Fredette was not in uniform amid multiple reports that the team was close to buying him out of his contract and will waive him by the end of the week. GM Pete D'Alessandro told reporters that Fredette no longer is in the team's plans. Fredette, a fan favorite in Sacramento, is a free agent at the end of the season. He turned 25 on Tuesday. He has shot 49.3 percent from 3-point range this season, the best in the NBA among shooters with at least 70 attempts. ... Rockets C Dwight Howard averaged 22.9 points and 12.8 rebounds in his previous 10 games, shooting 59.7 percent from the field. ... The 92 combined points by C DeMarcus Cousins, F Rudy Gay and G Isaiah Thomas in Sunday's 109-95 win at Denver was the most in a game by any Kings threesome in the 29 seasons the team has been in Sacramento. ... Rockets F James Harden played despite a hyperextended right elbow.