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James Harden trade ramps up expectations in Houston, reunion with Thunder on deck in playoffs

  • Houston Rockets' James Harden reacts after making a 3-pointer during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)The Associated Press

  • Houston Rockets' Chandler Parsons makes a dunk during the second of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. The Lakers won 99-95 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)The Associated Press

  • Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin battles Phoenix Suns' Jared Dudley (3) for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 15, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)The Associated Press

Jeremy Lin looked around on the first day of the Houston Rockets' training camp with more hope than expectation. James Harden arrived three weeks later and everything changed.

The Rockets are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Houston will face Oklahoma City, Harden's former team, in the first round beginning Sunday.

Houston had the No. 6 seed within reach after clinching a berth last week, but losses in three of its last four games dropped the Rockets to No. 8.

Harden came to Houston in a stunning trade with the Thunder and then lit up his old team for a career-high 46 points on Feb. 20. Oklahoma City won two of three matchups in the regular season.