Dwight Howard was the prize free agent of the 2013 class. After being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2012 offseason, many expected Howard would re-sign and stay in the big market that he has always wanted to be part of. Instead, Howard joined forced with James Harden and the Houston Rockets to make them an instant contender for the Western Conference Championship.
With a decent foundation in place, Howard was the final piece to the Rockets rebuilding effort. One of the players thought to be affected by the arrival of Howard was last year’s starting center Omer Asik. In 2012, his first year with Houston, Asik started all 82 games and averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. Asik, like Howard, is not a good shooter from outside of the paint. He gets most of his looks from inside the paint and a tandem of he and Howard doesn’t seem like it should work.
In a surprising move, Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale decided to start Asik at Center and Howard at Power Forward for the season opener against the Charlotte Bobcats. The two combined for 21 points, 40 rebounds and four blocks in a 96-83 Rockets victory. The tandem out-rebounded the entire Bobcats team 40-37 and dominated Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts the whole game.
Howard, on his own, had 17 points on 8-14 shooting and grabbed 26 rebounds with six of them being offensive. With Harden and Chandler Parsons struggling in the first half, the defense and rebounding of Howard kept them afloat until Harden took over in the second half. It seemed like the Rockets were out of sync the whole game like the Lakers were last year with Howard. They are trying to force the ball into him to keep him happy, but that is not the formula for them to win. Howard is one of the few players that can dominate a game without having a single play run for him. His defense and rebounding is the reason the Rockets won on Wednesday and will be the difference in them being a lower seeded playoff team or them advancing deep in the playoffs.
Although they are 1-0 with Howard and he was the best player on both ends of the court, Houston won’t win very many games with Harden and Parsons combining for 31 points. Howard has proven he can dominate whenever he is motivated, but that hasn’t always translated into success for the team. He has been the best center in the NBA for the last six years and has only been to one NBA Finals. The Rockets were able to get away with it against the Bobcats, but when they play one of the better teams in the West, they will not be able to get by playing the way they did Wednesday.