Dwight Howard returns to the court tonight after a 26-game absence due to swelling in his knee. Howard will start, but Kevin McHale says he’ll still be on a minutes restriction.
The tough part for Howard will be rediscovering his groove during the game. According to ESPN, because of the NBA schedule, Howard didn’t have much time to work himself back into a rhythm through practice.
“I wish we had more time for him to practice,” McHale said. “We’re so beat up we don’t have a lot of guys as we get through the season. So he’s unfortunately going to have to use the game as some prep time, which is never ideal because it’s hard to get game ready just by stepping in. A lot of times you need practice and rhythm and everything. He’s going to have to do that during the game.”
Obviously, any time a star returns to his team, it’s going to require an adjustment period from both the start and his teammates. For the Rockets, things get a little bit more complicated because of how well James Harden is playing. Will Howard let Harden do his thing, or will he demand the ball now that he’s back in action? Are the Rockets going to slow down the pace with Howard back in the fold? From what Harden told USA Today, none of these questions will be an issue because he and Howard already talked about them.
“(Howard) said, ‘I’ll be returning soon, but I don’t want you to change your game,” Harden told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to do anything different. Just go out there and do what you do, and do it at a high level every single night.’ He said, ‘I’ll adjust to you,’ and that right there gave me confidence to just play, and play my game and not worry about anything else.”
Howard clearly recognizes the obvious: if your star is playing at an MVP level, just let him keep on cooking. Howard’s also wise to let Harden focus on the offense, because with the recent news about Patrick Beverley’s injury, Howard will need to focus on the defense.
Beverley’s an elite perimeter defender. When he’s on the court, the Rockets allow just 97.7 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off, that number jumps to 102.3, per NBA.com/stats. His backups, whether that’s Pablo Prigioni, Jason Terry or Nick Johnson, range from slightly-capable to disastrous on defense. Add that to Harden’s well-noted defensive deficiency, and the Rockets will need Howard to be at his shot-blocking best, given the amount of penetration that’s likely to happen in Beverley’s absence.