Updated: November 1, 2012, 3:58 AM ET

1. Rockets' New Man Soars Like Never Before

By Dan Feldman
ESPN.com TrueHoop Network

James Harden used a high screen, split a pair of Pistons defenders and drove for an and-1 layup -- the Rockets' final basket in a 105-96 win Wednesday. Omer Asik, the wide-bodied center who set the quality screen, and Chandler Parsons hugged Harden below the hoop. Houston's bench gave a standing ovation.

And Harden's trademark beard parted just enough to reveal a smile.

"It was a whirlwind," Harden told Houston reporters after the Oklahoma City Thunder shook up the NBA season by trading him to the Rockets.

It's still a whirlwind, and on Wednesday, it caught the Pistons. Now, other NBA teams must worry they're next.

Harden came to Houston ready to move quickly, especially when it came to getting the max contract extension the Thunder never offered.

James Harden
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames Harden points Houston in a new direction.

"It's very important, but I'll let my agent and the front office deal with that," Harden said earlier in the week.

They delivered -- to the tune of five years and $80 million.

"My focus is on, how can I make this team better?" Harden continued. "Hopefully, we can get it done soon."

Then he delivered -- to the tune of 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block.

Only three other players in the past 25 years have hit those numbers in a single game: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Dwyane Wade. And here was Harden doing it just four days after being traded to Houston.

"I thought it was a challenge for James to kind of figure out what we were doing," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We put some plays in that he was comfortable with that they ran at Oklahoma City."

If this is how Harden plays while he doesn't know what he's doing, it's incomprehensible how he'll play once he does.

Harden excelled inside (8-of-10 in the restricted area) and outside (4-of-10 beyond the arc). Nearly all his assists led to a dunk, layup or 3-pointer. And the running Rockets had an offensive rating of 175 after his steals, meaning almost two points per possession.

It was a bit absurd Harden faced concerns about whether he could succeed as a starter -- you don't play 31.4 minutes per game against only reserves -- but he answered that question Wednesday.

However, a big question remains: Is Harden a star?

One game against a team that was 22nd in defensive rating last season cannot sufficiently answer that, but Harden took a step in the right direction.

He finished 26th in #NBARank, 30th in Player Efficiency Rating, 20th in estimated wins added, sixth in win shares and 15th in wins above replacement player after last season. By any reasonable measure, he was already at least very good and maybe even a star.

As the Rockets give him more minutes and more shots, we'll get a much clearer answer, and that's great for the NBA, based on the league's agenda during the lockout.

Among many other issues, the lockout was about preventing super teams and giving more markets a chance to build a good team. In that regard, the new collective bargaining agreement worked, as the Thunder -- leery of the more punitive luxury tax -- sent Harden to Houston, where he's pumping new life into a franchise that had swung and missed in its previous attempts to land a top player (Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard). Wednesday's performance, at least temporarily, justified everything Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been trying to do.

This must be great for Jeremy Lin, too. He escaped New York, where questions about how the Knicks players fit together dominated -- and still dominate -- the discussion.

On Wednesday, there was no issue with the Rockets' backcourt. Harden and Lin meshed beautifully. With their strong outside shooting, quick slashing and keen court awareness, they spread the floor wonderfully for each other and their teammates.

The Rockets are still one or two quality forwards from contending. Heck, they might be one or two quality forwards from even making the playoffs. But with Harden and Lin -- and the bruising Asik to set screens for them -- they're off to a good start.

When the Thunder, one of the league's elite teams, traded him to a franchise that has missed the past three playoffs, it could have been crushing to Harden.

But he said he embraced all of it -- being the focal point of an offense, serving as a team leader, starting regularly for the first time in his career -- and as Asik and Parsons embraced him under the hoop, Harden had good reason to smile.

The Houston Rockets, his new team -- his team -- won their first of game of their new era.

Meaningful? Maybe.

A whirlwind? Absolutely.

Dan Feldman's work appears regularly at the TrueHoop blog Piston Powered.

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