CHICAGO — James Harden scored 25 points, including 11 in a decisive run in the third quarter, in his return to the Houston lineup, and the Rockets defeated the Chicago Bulls 96-88 on Saturday night.
Harden, who had missed three games with a strained left hamstring, scored 11 straight points in a 1:59 span of the third as the Rockets went on a 15-0 run.
Carmelo Anthony had 17 points and James Ennis added 15 as the Rockets won their second game in two nights after starting the season 1-5.
Chicago led 59-58 midway through the third quarter before the Rockets and Harden went ahead for good, outscoring the Bulls 21-7 in the period.
Zach LaVine led Chicago with 21 points, and Wendell Carter Jr. had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Jabari Parker added 15 points as the Bulls lost their fourth straight game — going 0-4 in the homestand — and dropped their fifth straight to the Rockets.
Houston opened a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. Chicago narrowed it to five points with 4:01 left using a 12-2 run and capitalizing on stretch of cold shooting by Houston.
Harden, the NBA's reigning MVP, started slowly in his return to the starting lineup. He didn't score until completing a driving layup with 3:55 left in the second quarter. Then he hit back-to-back 3s and had 10 points at the half.
Harden had seven assists in the second quarter. He also had eight turnovers.
Harden suffered the hamstring injury near the end of the loss to Utah on Oct. 24, and Houston was routed in the next two games. The Rockets beat the Nets in Brooklyn 119-111 on Friday as Harden got an extra day of rest.
Guard Eric Gordon was held out of Saturday's game with abductor strain, suffered at Brooklyn.
The Bulls held their own with the Rockets in a see-saw, open first half and led 56-54. Neither team had more than a five-point lead in the first half.
Ennis, in his second game back after missing three with a strained right hamstring, led all scorers with 13 points at the half. Jabari Parker had 11 for Chicago.