Harden has 45, Rockets beat Hawks 109-102
ATLANTA (AP) — The Houston Rockets are winning with James Harden performing like the team's new franchise player.
The Atlanta Hawks struggled in the start of their new era without their longtime franchise player.
Harden continued to shine at the start of his Houston career, scoring a career-high 45 points to lead the Rockets to a 109-102 victory over the Hawks on Friday night.
Harden, traded to the Rockets from Oklahoma City on Saturday, topped 30 points for the second time in his first week with his new team.
"He's pretty good, I'd say," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "He just kept battling and playing."
Jeremy Lin, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, said Harden makes a "big time" difference.
"He frees everybody up," Lin said. "He knows what he's doing. We're thankful that he showed up."
Marcus Morris had 17 points for Houston.
Rockets center Omer Asik had a career-high 19 rebounds but did not score, missing seven shots from the field.
Lou Williams led the Hawks with 22 points in his Atlanta debut. Josh Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Williams averaged a career-high 14.9 points per game with the Sixers last season when he was runner-up to Harden for NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Williams appears bound for another year as a sixth man. Harden is thriving in his new role as a starter.
"It's a lot different," Harden said. "Having the offense run basically through you, it's a lot different, but that's my job now so I've got to get used to it."
Harden said he wasn't focused on his impressive scoring in his first two games.
"I don't even worry about it," he said. "I just go out there and play hard."
The Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in July for five players and a draft pick. Johnson averaged more than 20 points in five of his seven seasons as Atlanta's top player.
"We're still trying to establish an identity," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "That may take a little time to do."
Drew said his team struggled in rebounding and on defense, especially in helping stop Harden's drives.
"When he gets the basketball in transition, he's going to get to the basket," Drew said. "It won't be just one guy's responsibility, it will be a team responsibility."
With the game tied 92-92, Harden had consecutive baskets, including a three-point play, to give Houston the lead for good. Chandler Parson's 3-pointer with 1:55 remaining pushed the lead to 100-94.
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