NBA preview: With Howard, pieces are there for Rockets to win it all

Posted Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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If a person’s body language could speak, it’s clear that Dwight Howard is having more fun with the Houston Rockets than he did last year in his one disjointed season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I just want to have fun and do what I do,” Howard said. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s not good to go out there and not have fun. If you’re not having fun in doing something that you love, then you need to do something else.”

That’s exactly what Howard has done.

He wasn’t having fun being Kobe Bryant’s sidekick with the Lakers, so he decided to sign a four-year, $88 million free-agent contract this past summer with the Rockets.

Nowadays, Howard can be seen flashing that wide-eyed grin, and constantly having fun with his teammates. The fun is back — front and center — and Howard is loving every minute of it.

“I’m happy to be out there playing with these guys,” he said. “They’ve given me a couple more years just with their energy, and I’m excited.”

The Rockets are excited, too. With Howard, the Rockets have a legitimate chance to win multiple championships, especially with players such as James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Patrick Beverly.

Meanwhile, Howard wanted to get away from the Lakers so bad that in by-passing a deal to re-sign with the Lakers, he left $31 million on the table.

The Lakers’ money couldn’t buy Howard’s happiness.

With his health back, Howard just wants to return to the glory days of 2009-’11 when he won NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors three times.

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle believes the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard still is the game’s most effective center, even though he spent parts of the past two seasons haggling with various injuries.

“I think he’s great,” Carlisle said. “Other than having to deal with an injury-hampered year last year he’s been better each year.

“Who’s better? Right now he’s the most dominant big man we have in the game, and there are some good ones.”

Howard, 27, admits his health is key to his regaining first-team All-NBA status that he earned from 2008-’12. And he certainly looks more relaxed and fresh.

“I’m a little bit healthier than I have been in the past couple of years, so I think what’s going to be big for me and the rest of this team is my health,” Howard said. “All the other stuff, that’s you guys’ problem to deal with. I’ve just got to go play basketball.”

Howard spent eight seasons out of high school with Orlando before the Magic traded him to the Lakers on Aug. 10, 2012. But Howard quickly separated himself from the Lakers less than a year later.

Mavericks center Samuel Dalembert would rather play against a muscle-bound low-post player of Howard’s stature than to get matched up against a center who prefers to shoot jump shots.

“With Howard, it’s going to be a lot of pick-and-roll,” Dalembert said. “You try to get position. You’ve just got to be physical and stand your ground.”

A seven-time All-Star, Howard hopes to stand his ground enough to help the Rockets win their first NBA title since 1995, when Michael Jordan was away playing baseball.

“The pieces are there, but you can’t win because you have pieces,” Howard said. “It takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice, and it’s not going to be easy.

“I didn’t come here thinking it was going to be an easy run to the [NBA] Finals. I really believe that we have the talent and the tools to win, and now we just have to go out there and do it every night.”

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice

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