Dwight Howard faced the Houston Rockets for the first time since joining the Atlanta Hawks last summer, and he felt it was just another game they needed to win.
Atlanta came back in dramatic fashion and a 40-point fourth quarter eviscerated the Rockets’ 20-point lead. After the game, Howard told ESPN’s Calvin Watkins that this game was no different than any other despite it being a return to his former team.
“I didn’t really think about it like that,” said Howard after the 113-108 victory. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to beat Houston because this is my first time back.’ I just knew we needed to win.” The Hawks had dropped three of their last five heading into Thursday’s contest, and that included a 116-93 drubbing at the hands of Dion Waiters and Miami Heat.
Howard tallied 24 points and 23 rebounds, putting him alongside DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond as the only guys to record multiple 20-20 games this season. He did everything to assist Tim Hardaway Jr., who finished with 33 on the game; that included hammering home a dunk on Clint Capela during his 23-point fourth quarter explosion.
The departure of Dwight was as unceremonious as they come and alleged rifts between him and Daryl Morey and James Harden was the leading cause. There were reports that the front office wanted the coaching staff to reduce Howard’s so Capela could develop more since he was the center the Rockets wanted to go forward with.
His time is Houston wasn’t wasted, and he helped carry the Rockets to a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2015 despite missing half of the season with injuries. In his three seasons there, he averaged 16 points on 60.1 percent shooting, 11.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a night. During the postseason, his scoring jumped to 17.9 while he hauled in 13.9 boards and swatted nearly three shots per game.
When no one wanted to trade for the eight-time All-Star, he signed with the Hawks who offered him $70.5 million over three years, and it’s worked out nicely. Atlanta has, pretty much, cleaned house, and Paul Millsap is the only starter who remains from their 60-win season. Howard was brought on to help anchor the defense since that’s the only way the Hawks win ball games.
They’re fifth overall in efficiency and give up a tick less than 106 points per 100 possessions, and Howard’s fit seamlessly into Mike Budenholzer’s system. While not much of a shot blocker anymore, Howard makes up for that by cleaning the glass as well as anyone else, and he’s fifth in total rebounds with 586 and fourth in rebounds per game with 13.0.
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