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Young Rockets look to future after loss

HOUSTON (AP) - The young Rockets are eager to see what they can do in James Harden's second season in Houston.

The Rockets reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and battled back from a 3-0 deficit before being eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6.

Harden was traded to the Rockets just days before the season opener, leaving him little time to bond with his teammates before stepping in as the leader in Houston.

``Now we have an entire summer together,'' Harden said. ``This was definitely a great learning experience, but now we can use the summertime to get better.''

When asked how the time would help the Rockets, Harden couldn't narrow it down to just one thing.

``Confidence, chemistry - everything,'' Harden said. ``Kind of knowing where each other will be on the court. Getting a feel for each other off the court will help us just as much on the court. So, it's going to help us build our relationship up. We have a core group of guys that love to work and want to win. This series was definitely a good thing for us.''

Houston got blown out in Game 1 before leading in the fourth quarter of Games 2 and 3, only to lose both and fall behind 3-0. They won the next two games before a 103-94 loss Friday night ended their season.

Harden thrived in his first year in Houston, as he moved from being the sixth man with the Thunder to the Rockets' top player. He averaged 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals, setting career highs in each category.

``It was a good year for me,'' he said. ``Now I get some time to really work on my game coming in here and being the franchise player and working on ways to get better at my game.''

Kevin McHale raved about the adjustments Harden made in his move to Houston. He averaged 16.2 points a year ago.

``James had a (heck) of a year,'' McHale said. ``I don't think anybody understands how hard it is when every defense is set up to stop you. He did a great job with that. It's a big summer for James coming up. He's a young kid. He's got room for growth.''

The Rockets were also encouraged by the development of point guard Jeremy Lin. A year after becoming a star with the Knicks and starting the ``Linsanity'' craze, Lin started all 82 regular-season games for Houston, averaging more than 13 points and six assists.

A bruised chest muscle kept him out of two playoff games and limited him in two others, and he averaged just four points in the postseason.

The Rockets also got a great season from second-year forward Chandler Parsons. He scored 15.5 points a game after averaging fewer than 10 a year ago. He was even better in the playoffs, when he averaged 18.2 points with 6.5 rebounds.

``We have something to look forward to,'' Parsons said. ``This summer is going to be huge for us to develop that trust and chemistry, and we'll be back next year.''

He thinks the Rockets opened some eyes against top-seeded Oklahoma City.

``The world saw that we have a chance to be really good,'' Parsons said.

Another player who thrived for Houston was 7-foot center Omer Asik, who joined the Rockets after two seasons in Chicago. He averaged more than 10 points and 11 rebounds and started each game for Houston a year after averaging a bit over three points a game.

``Everybody feels bad now. This is a start of a journey for these guys collectively,'' McHale said. ``But the only way this journey gets fulfilled is to trust each other and keep playing together.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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