HOUSTON — Sometimes the future looks so bright that you need sunglasses.
Or maybe that’s just the solar flare that is James Harden.
Three nights after the All-Star circus left town, Harden put on a show that could have filled all three rings under the big top.
There were a career-high 46 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a blocked shot. It all came on 14-for-19 shooting from the field, 7-for-8 on 3-pointers and 11-for-12 from the line.
“That’s as efficient a game as you can play in the NBA,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
It was also necessary, since the Thunder are the Thunder and the Rockets were playing with only 10 bodies in uniform after the pre-game dealing sent Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas out of town.
While general manager Daryl Morey was doing his usual juggling act at the trade deadline — giving the Rockets a puncher’s chance at power forward with the addition of Thomas Robinson — Harden was once again the lion tamer, cracking his whip and taking complete control.
This was the kind of game that the OKC stars Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook usually put in a chokehold coming down the stretch, but instead it was their old buddy who took it into his hands and squeezed tight.
From the time he stepped to the free-throw line with the 6:29 left to play and the Rockets down by a dozen, the scoring the rest of the way showed: Harden 14, Thunder 12.
Any Rockets game has become the most entertaining NBA game to watch on any given night. That’s because of their frantic pace of play, constant desire to attack the lane, their ability to rain down 3s.
Nobody player has done more in the league this season to change the face and outlook for a franchise than Harden. With him relentlessly driving at the basket or pulling up to stab jumpers, he’s an offensive force every bit as unstoppable when he’s rolling as Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Give Morey credit for pulling off the deal that brought him to Houston and for also adding supporting cast members Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Give the G.M. credit for forging ahead with a plan that has the Rockets already well positioned under the salary cap for free agency next summer and for swinging Wednesday’s deal that could pay off huge if Robinson comes to town and delivers on the talent that made him the No. 5 pick in the draft.
The Rockets have become a team that is attractive to free agents because they have someone who belonged on the floor with the rest of the All-Stars Sunday night with a game and style and confidence that should draw help down the line like a magnet attracts metal filings.
Keep the sunglasses handy. Truth is, Harden might be just beginning to glow.