Harden returns to Rockets, scores 12 in preseason debut

James Harden was back in a Houston uniform.

It’s still uncertain 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 practicing only one time with his team 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.

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. 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.

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Harden seemed anything but disinterested to start his first live game action of the season.

He stood immediately to the right of new Rockets coach Stephen Silas in the pregame huddle, his eyes staring intently at whatever Silas was sketching up before taking the floor.

His first shot was a made straightaway 3-pointer, 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.

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 started reaching for his right Achilles area.

There was no immediate diagnosis of Clemons’ injury. There are four matches Wednesday, followed by seven on Thursday, eight on Friday and then three in the preseason finales Saturday. The regular season starts on Dec. 22.

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