Harden returns to Rockets, scores 12 in preseason debut

Associated Press

James Harden was back in a Houston uniform.

It’s still unclear how many more times that’ll happen.

The three-time defending NBA scoring champion made his preseason debut with the Rockets on Tuesday night, after starting to practice with his team just one day earlier following a late arrival to training camp amid incessant trade speculation. Harden scored 12 points in 21 minutes and the Rockets beat the San Antonio Spurs 112-98.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) passes the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12), guards Lonnie Walker IV, middle right, and Dejounte Murray (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Houston.

Harden also had four assists, three rebounds and two steals. He checked out for the final time with 5:02 left in the third quarter, having missed his final four shots.

John Wall and Ben McLemore each had 15 points for the Rockets, who got 11 points apiece from Eric Gordon and Jae’Sean Tate and 11 rebounds from DeMarcus Cousins. As expected, Wall and Harden were the starters in the Houston backcourt.

“It can be really good," first-year Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “To have two dynamic ballhandlers on the floor who can do a bunch of different things, play off each other, create for each other, it can be really, really good."

Harden was not planning to address reporters after the game.

“Just happy to see him back out there on the floor," McLemore said.

Lonnie Walker IV scored 17 for the Spurs, who got 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds from Dejounte Murray. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 12, while Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell each added 11 for San Antonio.

Harden seemed anything but disinterested to start his first live game action of the season. He stood immediately to the right of Silas in the pregame huddle, his eyes staring intently at whatever the coach was sketching on a dry-erase clipboard before taking the floor.

Harden's first shot was a made straightaway 3-pointer and his second attempt led to him getting fouled from beyond the arc and making three free throws.

So, his shooting touch was there, at least at the outset — as was his touch on passes. He connected with Danuel House on a three-quarter-court chest pass to set up a dunk late in the opening quarter, timing clearly not much of an issue after a couple months off.

Harden went 3 for 10 from the field, including 2 for 6 from 3-point range. He also went 4 for 5 at the free-throw line.

“I thought our young guys played him pretty wisely," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think we fouled him one time on a 3-point shot, but that's going to happen with him. He's pretty clever. We were better on him than we were John Wall. I thought John Wall got by us much too often."

Wall said he isn't recruiting Harden to stay in Houston, focusing instead on how they can work best together as teammates now.

“He's going to do what's best for him. ... I don't try to ask him about that because that's his personal business," Wall said.

The Rockets lost guard Chris Clemons with 9:58 left, after he was taken off the court in a wheelchair. Clemons made a 3-pointer for an 87-74 Houston lead, and after retreating to the defensive end for the ensuing possession, appeared to take a bad step and immediately began reaching for his right Achilles area.

There was no immediate diagnosis of Clemons’ injury, but given his reaction when it happened and as he was being wheeled off the floor it was reasonable to think that the Rockets were bracing for bad news.