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Despite trade rumors, Rockets' Ty Lawson looks to be improving

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Harden's double-double boosts Rockets (0:53)

James Harden scores 24 points and collections 10 rebounds as the Rockets top the Pelicans 108-101. (0:53)

HOUSTON -- Things had gotten so bad for Ty Lawson that the Houston Rockets front office had to speak to him about trade rumors. Lawson, the point guard who'd lost his starting job, was told the team isn't shopping him, and those close to him confirmed the rumors weren't true.

Yet Lawson's play had earned interest because of how shockingly bad it had been.

Mentally, Lawson has looked lost.

Physically, he doesn't look the same.

Add the trade talk bubbling around the Rockets' big offseason move, and it was probably time for a chat.

"They're pretty honest here and they would come up to me and tell me that," Lawson said after scoring 12 points in the Rockets' 108-101 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday night. "When that story came out, they came up to me and told me like there is no truth to it. I'm just playing here every day, go day by day, working hard and if things happen, things happen."

See, that's the problem: Things weren't happening for Lawson, and the seventh-year player was benched by interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

The thinking was to get Lawson more into the flow of the offense with the second unit because his pairing with James Harden wasn't working.

When the Rockets traded four backups for Lawson, the Rockets figured he would push them to the next level.

It hasn't happened.

Over the past two games, however, Lawson seems to be finding his way. He's attacking the basket whether he's with Harden or not, and seems more comfortable overall.

"I just keep preaching to him to be aggressive," Harden said. "If he's being aggressive, making shots and making plays, our team is better."

Lawson was benched in the second half of a game against Memphis on Nov. 25 and was a healthy scratch Sunday against the New York Knicks. The rumors started flying that the Rockets wanted him gone, or at least wanted to see if there were any takers for him.

"It happens every day, even if you're playing well, teams are shopping you," Lawson said. "You just can't feed into it. Just keep being you."

The Rockets are looking for Lawson to be the player who finished third in the NBA in assists last season.

Over the past two games, Lawson has shown flashes he's that talented player the Rockets traded for. In Detroit on Monday, despite another bad loss, he had 11 points and three assists in 19 minutes.

That seemed to be progress, and Wednesday Lawson was the first guard off the bench. When the night was over, he had a productive, six-assist, three-turnover game. He was plus-23 in the box score and of his six assists, two led to free throws. His defensive rating was 82.3 per 100 possessions and his offensive rating was 121.7.

While commanding the ball has been an issue with Harden, even he didn't handle it as much. Harden entered Wednesday's game with an 89.9 touch rate but touched the ball 72 times against the Pelicans compared to 60 for Lawson.

"Yeah, he and James have had a bunch of conversations and I think in those conversations they are starting to learn each other, starting to figure each other out, and Ty is able to feel more comfortable," Bickerstaff said. "He got more minutes because he deserved them."

Two games is a good start but more progress is needed before Lawson becomes Lawson again.

"I think I've been playing a little bit better since the Detroit game," he said. "And hopefully I can keep it going and keep working."