GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)
Lately, reserves have had to fill in entirely for Howard, who will miss a third straight game Friday night when the Rockets visit the Boston Celtics.
Houston's star center will reportedly miss at least the team's stops in Boston and Detroit before having his ailing right knee re-evaluated. After an MRI Wednesday, the team revealed via its official Twitter feed that Howard is suffering from edema in the knee, which is caused by fluid building up in body tissues.
His absence didn't keep the Rockets (32-14) from a third straight win Wednesday, defeating Dallas 99-94 with 47 points coming from reserves.
For the season, the Rockets rank near the bottom of the league with 27.2 bench points per game while shooting 40.4 percent, which is better than only Charlotte. In the last four, they've averaged 42.8 points on 47.4 percent shooting.
Part of that increased contribution Wednesday came from the return of Terrence Jones, who had 10 points in 21 minutes of his first appearance after missing 41 games due to nerve inflammation in his left leg.
Joey Dorsey has started at center and scored a total of four points in the past two, but reserve Josh Smith has helped make up for Howard's lost production. He's averaged 14.3 points while shooting 55.9 percent during this winning streak.
"I'm starting to find my way, starting to find spacing and other avenues to be productive and efficient," said Smith, who saw plenty of the Celtics (16-28) as a starter in the Eastern Conference but has been limited to 11.5 points on 33.3 percent shooting in his last two matchups.
Field-goal attempts were evenly distributed against the Mavericks, with Donatas Motiejunas taking a team-high 16, James Harden 14 and Smith and Corey Brewer 13. Harden averaged 20.0 shots in the previous 13 games Howard missed.
"We've got so many weapons now," said Harden, who averaged 37.0 points in his previous four before scoring 17 against Dallas. "We've got a lot of depth on this team, a lot of guys that can contribute. When we've got so many guys contributing -- six guys in double figures -- it's kind of hard to beat us."
Harden scored 26 against the Celtics in a 104-90 home win on Nov. 1, but he's been limited to 17.3 points on 37.8 percent in three career starts in Boston. Jones was healthy for the early-season meeting, scoring 25, and is averaging 20.3 points while shooting 66.7 percent in three games against Boston.
The Rockets have won three straight in the series while limiting the Celtics to an average of 89.0 points and 35.9 percent shooting, and Houston will be trying for its eighth win in 10 meetings.
The Celtics return from a 3-3 road trip against the West, though they're a bit down on its conclusion -- Wednesday's 110-98 loss at league-worst Minnesota.
"If you want to make it to where we're trying to make it, these games cannot happen," Jared Sullinger said after scoring 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting.