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.
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.
“Right when it happened, I knew exactly what it was,” said Wall, who has dealt with Achilles surgery himself.
There are four games Wednesday, followed by seven on Thursday, eight on Friday and then three in the preseason finales Saturday. The regular season begins on Dec. 22.
76ERS 108, CELTICS 99
At Philadelphia, Shake Milton scored 19 points, Joel Embiid added 18 and Tobias Harris finished with 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds for the 76ers in the preseason opener for both clubs.
Ben Simmons had 10 points and six assists for Philadelphia.
Jeff Teague scored 18 for Boston. He shot 7 for 9 on a night where some Celtics struggled mightily from the field; Jaylen Brown made his first shot and went 0 for 10 the rest of the way, and Jayson Tatum finished just 4 for 13.
Payton Pritchard had 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter for Boston. Tatum finished with 10 points.
KINGS 114, WARRIORS 113
At Sacramento, Golden State’s Stephen Curry had 29 points in 28 minutes, but Kyle Guy’s 3-pointer at the buzzer won it for the Kings.
Curry was 11 for 21 from the field, 5 for 13 from 3-point range.
Guy scored 20 points for the Kings, including six 3-pointers. Buddy Hield scored 18 points and De’Aaron Fox had 17 for the Kings. Hassan Whiteside added 11 points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes.
Marquese Chriss scored 17 for the Warriors, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins each scored 12, and Brad Wanamaker finished with 10. Golden State trailed 66-47 early in the third quarter, then rallied to lead by four in the final minute.
But Guy found Robert Woodyard II for a dunk to cut the Golden State edge to two, then made the game-winner from near the top of the key as time expired.
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