The return of Dwight Howard to the Rockets’ line-up resulted in victory and record setting milestones for three of the teams’ starters. Analyzing the game it became apparent how much a team can improve in a single season and how crucial team chemistry and identity is.
The Rockets began the initial frame slightly discombobulated as they were eager to work Howard back into their offensive sets. Make no mistake, during his 11-game absence this Rocket squad went 8-3 due in large part to their improved team defense and the sudden emergence of James Harden as a 2-way player. Now with Howard back, realistically their defense should get even better, but it is the offense of the Rockets which stands to experience the greatest growth
It took one quarter for the Rockets to figure that fact out as they finally relaxed and found their flow. As I expected, Donatas Motiejunas is the player who stands to benefit the most from having Howard back in the line-up. Motiejunas’ 9-consecutive second-quarter points served to awaken the natural ebb and flow of the Rockets offense and instigated the turning point of the game.
Denver jumped on Houston in the first quarter shooting 60% from the field and held Houston to 23% leading to a 10-point deficit. A complete reversal of fortune occurred in the second quarter in concert with Houston increasing their defensive focus. With Howard and Motiejunas locking down the paint it led to Denver dropping to 29% while Houston’s field goal percent climbed to 61%.
By the end of the half Houston had limited Denver to 17 points, 48 points for the half and they won each subsequent quarter ultimately winning the game 108-96.
I’m still trying to get my timing back and everything was a little rusty but I’m just happy we got the win
Two keys things stood out in terms of how Howard affects the team:
1) With Howard on the floor the combination of Motiejunas and Howard make penetrating the key extremely difficult with their paint protection often leading to blocks, deflections and fast break offense.
2) The offense has a myriad of choices available with Howard back. Motiejunas specifically reaps the benefits of Howard’s presence in that he receives more freedom because of the emphasis on defending Howard and Harden and partially due to Demo’s variety of offensive weapons. These opportunities aren’t limited to the 3-starters as the entire squad now has multiple scoring options which can be initiated by defensive stops or in a half-court setting.
Motiejunas: As highlighted Demo is going to have plenty of opportunities with Howard back to continue to showcase his offensive arsenal. On this night he did so through a career high 25-point scoring effort
Harden: This achievement provided the chuckle of the evening as Harden first collected a double-double off a rebound that led to a transition run-out and his 10th assist all within :5 seconds. At this point he needed just one rebound to capture his third career triple-double and had 3-minutes left in the game to capture it. With 1:45 left in the game he snagged a rebound, but it was nullified when Faried grabbed him, fouling him in the process. McHale then removed Howard and Ariza inserting Dorsey and Troy Daniels. Harden’s next opportunity came with :46 remaining when Daniels basically bodied him out of the way to grab a rebound which set the bench into fits of laughter. At the :12 second mark once again Daniels inexplicably stepped in front Harden looking for a rebound that he knocked out of bounds.
The bench, the commentators and the crowd who had all been laughing finally realized Daniels apparently was the only person in the arena not aware of Harden’s pursuit. With very little time remaining the last series of plays seemed fated. Denver attempted and missed several shots each time garnering the rebound, but the final shot fatefully resulted in a rebound that seemingly fell right into Harden’s hands, thus giving him the elusive triple-double literally as the game horn sounded. Good thing for Daniels the Nugget’s had so many chances in the final seconds or he may have found himself being the brunt of jokes all season. Harden spoke to the humor of the situation post game.
Howard: The biggest milestone of the evening went to Dwight Howard who became the third youngest player to amass 10,000 rebounds. He joins Hall Of Fame stars Wilt Chamberlain (28-years, 81 Days) and Bill Russell (28-years, 285 days) by reaching this mark in 29-years, 5 days. The fact Howard did this on his first night back felt fittingly appropriate.
For fans of Wilt Chamberlain you may also be interested in an article by FanSided’s Joel Wagler on the film “Jayhawkers” which explores the recruitment of Chamberlain for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Howard happy to be back:
Post game Howard expounded on his delight of being back on the court
“Thank God for my health. I’m happy to be back out here with the fellas. I missed being out on the court and I’m just happy we got a good win. I felt pretty good you know. I’m still trying to get my timing back and everything was a little rusty but I’m just happy we got the win and just happy to be playing at home in front of fans. ”
As we witnessed with the return of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant they also had big games their first night back, but succumbed to rust in their second games. Fortunately Houston had 3-days off for Howard to let his knee recover and practice with the team.
This week features 3-games: a back to back with Houston at Denver Wednesday and back home to New Orleans Thursday and Atlanta visits Saturday.
For Howard the goal will be to smoothly transition back into the ebb and flow of the teams’ offense and defense. I doubt he anticipated playing close to 30-minutes in his first outing, but the fact he did bodes well for Houston. With Howard back in the line-up the Rockets will look to retain their number two ranked defense and begin their climb up the offensive ladder ranking.
Have a great week Rocket fans and feel free to drop by and interact with us on the site. We’d love to hear your thoughts before and after games, on the team in general and on how you feel the players are doing.