Harden returned from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for one game and scored 31 points to lead Houston to a 99-93 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
After suffering the injury Saturday against Dallas and missing Monday night's loss to San Antonio, Harden returned to lead the Rockets to their first victory under coach Kevin McHale in more than a month.
"That was the kind of James game where he just makes plays and attacks," McHale said. "James was the only guy that had a rhythm early in the game."
Harden scored 17 first-quarter points, going 6 of 7 from the field and hitting all four of his free throws.
"I was in the zone and I was feeling it," Harden said. "I was finding ways to hit shots and get to the line."
After matching a career-high 38 points on Monday night, Jeremy Lin had a subdued role in Harden's return, scoring just 10 points, while adding six assists and five rebounds for the Rockets.
"(Harden) came out on fire, and we rode his scoring for a while," Lin said. "It's not just me and him -- there's five of us out there. We're just trying to figure it all out and find a happy medium where we kind of maximize everybody."
The Wizards threatened late in the fourth quarter, but Chandler Parsons scored eight straight points for Houston in the final three minutes, including two 3-pointers, to secure the victory. Parsons finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
"It's frustrating because the first three quarters, I couldn't hit a shot," Parsons said.
It was Houston's first victory since McHale rejoined the team last Saturday after taking a leave of absence for almost a month following the death of his 23-year-old daughter. McHale left the team Nov. 10 to be with his family as his daughter's health worsened. Alexandra "Sasha" McHale died Nov. 24 of complications from Lupus.
Rookie Bradley Beal had 20 points to lead Washington, which had five players in double-figures, including four starters. Emeka Okafor, a Houston native, had a season-high 19 points for Washington to go with six rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"I was born and raised here so I feel comfortable," Okafor said. "I had a good flow going, and my teammates were finding me."
The Rockets limited the Wizards to 39 percent shooting from the field, marking just the second time this season Houston has kept its opponent below 40 percent.
"We just take too many tough, bad shots in situations sometimes," Washington coach Randy Wittman said. "You have to move the ball and we don't and that gets us in trouble and we fall in a hole."
After the Wizards scored the first two points, Houston didn't trail until a brief spell midway through the third quarter. Harden hit a 3-pointer with less than seven minutes left in the third, giving Houston a one-point lead, and the Rockets never trailed again.
Beal hit a 3 with one minute remaining in the first half to tie the game at 40. The Wizards trailed by as many as 14 in the first half before going on a 9-0 run late in the second quarter.
Toney Douglas hit a 3-pointer from beyond the half-court line as time expired in the second to put the Rockets up 45-42 at the break.
Jordan Crawford started at point for Washington, while A.J. Price remained out with a fractured right hand suffered last Saturday against Golden State. John Wall has missed the entire season with a stress injury in his left knee.
The Wizards also played without Trevor Ariza, who strained his left calf last Tuesday against Miami, and Trevor Booker (right knee), who started the first six games.
Chris Singleton had a career-high four blocks for Washington. ... Greg Smith and Patrick Patterson both registered a season-high three blocks. ... Houston C Omer Asik had 16 rebounds, recording double-digit rebounds for the second straight game and sixth time in his last nine outings.