James Harden has made it easy to overlook, but Dwight Howard has missed his team’s last 26 games. And as the Houston Rockets deal with injuries down the regular season’s strech run, the team might be forced to accelerate the star big man’s return to the lineup as a result.
After the Rockets dispatched of the Indiana Pacers last night on the strength of Harden’s 44 points, coach Kevin McHale indicated Howard would play soon – one way or another.
Via Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle:
While there is no set return date for Rockets center Dwight Howard, coach Kevin McHale said it has to be soon.
“We are so down on bodies and we don’t have a lot of practice time,” McHale said. “We might have to start throwing him out there and letting him get some minutes in the game, whether he starts out 15-20 minutes and getting game time. But he has to start playing here pretty soon because otherwise the season is just going to go by and you can’t wait for the playoffs to come back, so we’ll see.”
A lack of meaningful practice time remaining in the regular season likely has just as much to do with this possible development as any injuries.
Houston has 12 contests remaining before its regular season ends 23 days from now on April 16, and most teams try and avoid intense work sessions immediately following games – especially as the postseason looms. Ideally, Howard would go through several arduous practices prior to returning to game action, but the schedule might not allow for that grace period. Injuries to starters Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones ensure that McHale wouldn’t be able to get Howard work with lineups he’ll most often play with come the playoffs anyway.
As long as the Rockets initially manage the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s minutes, this shouldn’t prove a big issue. They wouldn’t play Howard unless he was healthy enough to perform – all an accelerated return would do is likely make him a bit less effective in his first few games than if he had proper time to get re-acclimated in practice. With Houston in the thick of a heated race for home court advantage in the first round, it also bears mentioning that the team could certainly use even his somewhat diminished presence down low.
The Rockets visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday and host the Minnesota Timberwolves two days later. Don’t be surprised if Howard plays in either contest.