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News and Notes: February 22, 2014

Harden looking healthy as Hamilton joins the fold

PHOENIX - The Rockets received great news Saturday when All-Star shooting guard James Harden felt good enough to take part in the entirety of the team’s spirited afternoon practice, just days after suffering a painful elbow injury that threatened to potentially sideline him for a period of time.

Harden showed little in the way of ill effects during the workout session which included several high-energy, full contact drills and a full-court scrimmage as well. The Arizona State product looked so good, in fact, that Houston head coach Kevin McHale said he’d be “shocked” if Harden was not available to play Sunday when the Rockets take on the Phoenix Suns.

“The pain went down a lot,” Harden said, immediately after practice. “When it first happened, it was hard to extend and move my elbow. Now I can kind of move it. It’s not full strength but it’s a lot better than yesterday and that’s a good thing.”

Saturday’s workout was also noteworthy since it represented the first opportunity for the newest member of the team to begin the process of acclimating to an unfamiliar environment. Jordan Hamilton, acquired in Thursday’s deadline deal with Denver, wasted little time ingratiating himself to his new teammates and coaches by playing solid one-on-one defense, knocking down a pair of 3s and throwing down an emphatic baseline slam – in other words, by providing a hint of the versatile skill set that made him attractive to the Rockets in the first place.

The University of Texas product said he’s long hoped to play for Houston since he has family in the area and went to college nearby. He also already knows several of his new teammates, both from his high school hoops days in California and the AAU circuit. In fact, Hamilton playfully claimed to have dropped 30 points on Harden during a high school playoff game during his sophomore season – an assertion Harden flatly dismissed, though not necessarily convincingly.

“I’ve been watching the Rockets a lot this year,” the 23-year-old said after his first workout with his new team. “They’re a great team. Yes, we do have a chance to go far in the playoffs and possibly get a championship so I’m just happy to be a part of it.

“They’ve got guys who can run; I like to get out and run … They like open 3s and layups, similar to how George Karl ran his offense last year (in Denver). I think I can fit in good with the Rockets this year.

“The main thing is just coming in and going hard, whether I get minutes or I don’t; if it comes down to it, just being the biggest cheerleader on the bench. Just coming in, working hard and trying to earn some minutes.”

And though Harden was not ready to lend credence to Hamilton's boast from back in their high school days, he absolutely believes in his new teammate's ability to contribute.

“(Hamilton brings) great size at the wing, which we need,” he said. “He’s an excellent shooter, a solid defender. He brings a lot. He fits in well with our system and what we want to do. As soon as we can get him acclimated to how we like to play, how fast we play and our defensive principles, the better off he’ll be.”