NEW ORLEANS — Houston Rockets guard James Harden was on the U.S. basketball team that won gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

But Harden said it was just as special being named an NBA All-Star for the first time. The game is Feb. 17 at Houston.

“I’m an NBA player, so it’s a great honor and a great accomplishment because only so many people are chosen every year,” he said Friday. “It’s different from being on the Olympic team.”

Harden is in his first year with the Rockets after being traded from Oklahoma City. He went into Friday’s game averaging 25.8 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

Being a starter for the first time in his NBA career has been an adjustment, he said.

“Every night, defenses are geared up more to affect me, so I try to be effective in different ways,” he said. “It’s different, but you still have to find ways to make an impact on the game.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale, a seven-time All-Star with the Boston Celtics, said he told Harden to enjoy the All-Star experience because your first trip is special.

“He’s played really well and is a big part of why we’re hanging in there in the playoff race,” he said. “It’s a great reward for how he’s played, but it won’t be his last one.”

McHale said seeing Harden play every game has left an impression.

“He just does a lot of little things better than I thought he did,” he said. “... Everything he does, he’s just a little bit more effective than what you saw, but part of that is he’s getting more opportunities than he did in Oklahoma City and he’s comfortable.”

Harden had a streak of 14 straight games with 25 points or more, a franchise record.

“It felt good to have confidence and go out there and play hard and score, my teammates making it easy for me,” he said. “It was a good feeling.”

No nod for Vasquez

Not surprisingly, no Hornets were selected to the Western Conference All-Star team.

One may have merited a spot: Point guard Greivis Vasquez entered Friday night third in the NBA in assists per game at 9.0, and he’s having the best season of his three-year career. The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul (9.7) is second in assists behind Boston’s Rajon Rondo (11.1), an Eastern Conference All-Star.

Hornets coach Monty Williams said he doesn’t put much stock in All-Star picks.

“I’m sure Greivis isn’t whining about that,” Williams said. “He probably wants wins more than he wants that.”

There’s another reason why Williams, a defensive-minded coach, doesn’t sweat All-Star selections, although he said he respects the players chosen.

“It’s an offensive award now,” he said. “Some of the guys who made it, in my opinion, don’t play both sides of the ball. A number of them do, but some of those guys don’t play both sides.

“I try to vote for guys who play both sides of the basketball floor. The guys who make it are good, no question about it. But there are three or four guys every year who get left off. I’m not saying the guys who made it can’t play defense, but I certainly put a premium on both sides. It’s All-Star, it’s not Half-Star.”

‘Watch out or they’ll eat ya’

McHale seemed impressed by the Hornets’ impending name change to the Pelicans.

“Vicious bird — pelicans. Watch out or they’ll dump on you,” he said. “I shouldn’t even say that because I don’t know much about them. Pelicans are like a big bird that hangs on the shore, right? I like hawks and eagles and stuff like that. Pelicans aren’t birds of prey, is it?”

Told they were, McHale said, “Well, there you go. Watch out or they’ll eat ya.”

It then was explained that pelicans submerge in the water to catch fish to eat. Quipped McHale: “Pelicans — watch out or they’ll dive on ya.”