Rockets Could Steal No. 2 Seed With Return of Dwight Howard
The Houston Rockets are currently 47-23 and just 2.5 games behind Memphis for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and don't rule out Houston overtaking the Grizzlies with the news that star center Dwight Howard is expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday's game in New Orleans.
As Long As No Setbacks ...
The Rockets intend to bring Howard back from a 26-game absence and limit him to 20 minutes per game in the early stages of his return from season-long knee troubles. Howard officially is listed as questionable on the team's injury report. Howard has not played since Jan. 23, but Houston has maintained its standing as a top-four team in the Western Conference without its defensive anchor, which has bolstered the MVP case of Rockets stalwart James Harden. The Rockets are 17-9 since Dwight went out. He missed another 12 games earlier in the season with other maladies (flu, ankle, knee). Houston is 25-13 with Howard on the bench.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he plans to play Howard against the Pelicans, barring any problems.
“We plan to play him unless what we did today bothers him,” McHale said after the team practiced in Indiana before heading to New Orleans.
Howard went through a light practice and said he felt good when it was over.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “We will see how I feel tomorrow. Today I felt pretty good. Hopefully tomorrow, I will feel even better. ... Not being on the floor for a long time, watching from the sidelines is hard. I will be happy to finally get back out there and play,” said Howard, who has averaged 16.3 points and 11 rebounds per game this season.
Don't expect to see Howard in both ends of a back-to-back when Houston plays in them. The Rockets have three back-to-backs remaining, including one at the end of the March when they travel to Washington and Toronto.
The Rockets are +1000 on Sportsbook.ag to win the West.
Harden Won't Change Game
While having the three-time defensive player of the year back in the fold will certainly be a boost for the Rockets, their opponents would have been wise to wonder if his presence might have changed their offensive dynamics enough to slow the MVP-caliber roll that James Harden has been on. Harden, who is averaging 27.2 points, seven assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game, knew they needed to discuss how this would work when Howard came back.
Yet because of a meeting in Denver earlier this month that involved Harden, Howard, and veteran guard Jason Terry, such hopeful optimism from the many teams trying to stop them appears to be unfounded.
"He said, 'I'll be returning soon, but I don't want you to change your game," Harden said. "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."
Houston won't be quite whole Wednesday at starting point guard Patrick Beverley (wrist) has been ruled out vs. the Pelicans. Terry will likely slide into the starting lineup, and Pablo Prigioni will also see some extended minutes.
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