After chaotic offseason, James Harden drops 44 points, 17 assists in Rockets' opener

PORTLAND, OREGON - DECEMBER 26: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter at Moda Center on December 26, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Even when pushing for a trade, James Harden can drop numbers like no one else. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s hard to say what the on-court expectations are for a player making his debut after several weeks of trying to force his way out of an organization while openly partying at clubs during a pandemic, but it seems safe to declare that James Harden exceeded them in the Houston Rockets’ season opener.

The Rockets star dropped 44 points and 17 assists in his first game with the shorthanded Rockets against the Portland Trail Blazers. That included a would-be game-winning 3-pointer:

We said “would-be game-winner” because C.J. McCollum responded with a 3-pointer of his own to give the Blazers a 128-126 win. The game eventually ended with a turnover from Harden, whose pass out of the lane was intercepted by former teammate Robert Covington.

In a game with both teams throwing haymakers, perhaps the most shocking thing was how much Harden looked like his usual self.

The stat line: 44 points. 17 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 43 minutes. That wouldn’t look at all out of place on Harden’s game log last year, or the year before. He was 12-for-22 from the field and 6-for-13 from 3-point range, with his usual 16 trips to the free throw line.

The man barely looked like he missed a step, and that is good news for the Rockets as they try to either convince Harden that he can win in Houston, or squeeze every last asset out of a potential trade partner.

Of course, Harden’s performance might not be too surprising considering we did recently learn that Harden playing as if he didn’t spend the last three nights at a club is nothing new.

From ESPN’s shocking story on how Harden effectively controlled the Rockets’ culture:

"If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party," a member of last season's coaching staff said. "But he's going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they're OK with it."

Some people just work differently.

James Harden still wants out of Houston

If anything, Harden’s assist total almost seemed like an attempt at a rebuttal toward those criticizing his conduct. Harden has made few friends since his trade request, a span of time that has seen him show up to Rockets training camp days late and getting into a reported confrontation that included throwing a basketball at a rookie.

Harden received a $50,000 fine after a video surfaced of him at a club without a mask. He would have also missed the Rockets’ season opener, costing him six figures, had it not been delayed due to an unrelated COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

The Rockets can at least be heartened that Harden will still deliver when he’s actually on the court, since it’s in his interest to stay effective while looking for a trade to a contender.

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