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11/03/2012 1:21 AM EDT
Harden has 45, Rockets beat Hawks 109-102
HOUSTON 109, ATLANTA 102

By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer

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.



Harden was 14 of 19 from the field and 15 of 17 from the free
throw line. Harden's 17 free-throw attempts matched Atlanta's
total.



Harden, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension
with Houston following the trade, had 37 points, 12 assists and
six rebounds in a 105-96 win at Detroit in his debut on
Wednesday night.



Houston led after each of the first three periods. The Rockets
took a 68-52 lead in the third before Atlanta cut the deficit to
81-74 at the end of the quarter.



A basket by Smith with 7:12 remaining gave Atlanta an 88-87
lead, its first since the opening period.



"We were just trying to put together as many stops as we could,"
Williams said. "We battled our way back into the game to even
get it to that point."



The Rockets are 2-0, but McHale said the team needs work on
closing out wins.



"We need a few days together in the gym where we can slow some
things down and figure out how we want to finish games," McHale
said.



After a preseason of sampling lineup combinations, Drew had two
newcomers - Devin Harris and Kyle Korver - join Al Horford,
Smith and Jeff Teague. Drew said he had "a little indecision"
about Harris starting at shooting guard as the coach worried
about the defensive matchup with Harden, who at 6-foot-5 is at
least 3 inches taller than Harris.



DeShawn Stevenson, who could match Harden's height - and at
least come close to matching Harden's beard - became an
important player off the bench for Atlanta.



Stevenson had 12 points on four 3-pointers, including one at the
buzzer to end the first half.



Teague had 14 points and seven assists and Horford had 14
points.



The Rockets had a 58-36 advantage in rebounds.



"We have some things that we really have to focus in and work
on," Drew said. "There were areas in this game where we weren't
very good, very polished, particularly on the boards."



Drew said his perimeter players were beaten for too many long
rebounds.



"We didn't play well, yet we gave ourselves a chance in fighting
back," he said.



Notes: Houston F Patrick Patterson started after missing the
opener with a strained left quad. C Greg Smith (strained left
foot) did not play. ... Harden's previous career high was 40
points against the Suns on April 18. ... Hawks C Johan Petro was
inactive. ... Stevenson fouled out in the final minute. ...
Harden is the first player to score 40 points against Atlanta
since LeBron James had 43 points on March 18, 2011.

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