HOUSTON -- James Harden is getting used to his role as the go-to guy in Houston.
Harden went 10 for 20 from the field but only 1 of 7 from 3-point range in his third 30-point game since joining the Rockets in a blockbuster trade with Oklahoma City on Oct. 27.
"It's taken seven games for me to just be the man, and know what to expect and know how to handle every situation," Harden said. "There are going to be games where, I don't know. There are going to be a lot of experiences that I learn from, so I'm just taking it one game at a time."
The Rockets outscored New Orleans 39-18 in the second quarter to build a big lead, but the Hornets played better defense in the second half to close the gap. Houston shot 58 percent (14 of 24) from the field and hit six 3-pointers in the second period.
"When you have a quarter like that, it's hard to rebound," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "But I thought the guys on our team showed a lot of guts and character, getting back in the game."
The Hornets couldn't quite come all the way back. Chandler Parsons sank a pivotal 3-pointer and fadeaway jumper late to help Houston win for the second time in five home games. The Rockets also built big leads in the first two games of the season, against Detroit and Atlanta, and had to fend off late rallies to win in much the same way.
"We can't keep getting these double-digit leads in the first half and give them away," Parsons said. "We've got to come out there in the third quarter with energy and not allow that."
The Rockets took the floor while first-round draft pick Royce White remained absent from the team. The 6-foot-8 White called the team "inconsistent" in its efforts to help him cope with his anxiety disorder and fear of flying, and he sent out a series of often critical tweets throughout the day.
The team has said nothing publicly beyond a statement that said White was "unavailable" and that it would support him going forward.
After a slow start, the Rockets hardly seemed distracted.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Toney Douglas both hit a pair of 3s early in the second quarter as the Rockets surged to a 47-38 lead. Houston started 7 for 10 from the field overall in the quarter. Morris stayed on the floor when the starters returned, and scored on consecutive drives to stretch the lead to 52-40.
Harden, the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, liked what he saw from the Houston bench.
"They lifted us up," Harden said. "Toney and Carlos (Delfino) and Marcus Morris really did a good job, coming in and bringing that energy."
New Orleans defended the perimeter better in the third quarter and trimmed the deficit to six. Vasquez, fourth in the NBA in assists coming into the game, twisted his left ankle on a drive late in the third quarter. He came out of the game and limped to the locker room.
Houston led 85-76 after three, then gave away four turnovers in the first 4 minutes of the final quarter. Vasquez returned and guarded Harden, who swished a jumper from the top of the key for a 95-88 lead with just over 4 minutes to go.
The 6-foot-9 Al-Farouq Aminu switched to guard Harden after that, and Harden passed to Parsons for a 3-pointer with 3:27 remaining.
Vasquez then sank a pair of 3s to fuel a quick 8-0 Hornets run that cut the gap to 98-96 with less than 2 minutes to play. Parsons just beat the shot clock with an awkward fadeaway jumper to put Houston up by four.
Aminu and Vasquez missed 3-pointers in the final 5 seconds, and Houston held on.
Houston coach Kevin McHale missed his third straight game since taking an indefinite leave to address a family matter in Minnesota. Assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said the team still has no timetable for McHale's return. ... Former Rockets center Ralph Sampson was honored at midcourt during a timeout in the second quarter. Sampson, the top overall pick in the 1983 draft who guided Houston to the 1986 NBA Finals, was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in September. ... The Rockets' 39 second-quarter points and 64 first-half points were season highs.