Howard, recovering from edema in his right knee, still isn’t practicing, and coach Kevin McHale won’t admit there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Until Howard returns, the Rockets are forced to battle shorthanded in the front court, and they're failing at it. In six of theIR past eight games, the Rockets have been out-rebounded by their opponents, including Thursday night when the Utah Jazz had a 57-37 advantage on the glass.
Things were so bad for Houston that Utah center Rudy Gobert snagged 22 rebounds, including 12 offensive. Gobert tied an NBA season high with 18 first-half rebounds.
When the night was over, Houston had dropped its second straight, 109-91, and a common theme presented itself again: rebounding, or the lack thereof.
"We gave up 17 offensive rebounds in the first half," McHale said after the loss. "It's hard to overcome that. If we don't rebound better we're going to have a lot of bad nights."
The Rockets gave up 60 rebounds against Portland on Wednesday, the second time this season Houston had allowed a team to grab 60 boards in a game.
McHale isn't happy about it, but he's helpless.
He was forced to use Terrence Jones, a 6-foot-9, 252-pound power forward who has the game of a small forward. Then he has Donatas Motiejunas, a second-year man like Jones, but the 7-footer is 222 pounds and gets muscled off the blocks at times.
Prior to Thursday's game against the Jazz, McHale was in dress shoes showing Motiejunas what to do with his legs in terms of leverage and where to place his hands on the body to control someone.
"Coach is giving me a lot of advice this year," Motiejunas said. "I'm extremely happy about that. I'm trying to fix everything with what he's telling me because it can help me in the future."
There isn't much help on the free-agent market for the Rockets, who have searched but haven't found anyone worth signing at this point.
Every little thing means so much to the Rockets in the frontcourt when it comes to battling inside. They are losing this battle on a nightly basis against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference as Howard recovers.
In the opening moments of Thursday's game against the Jazz, Gobert blocked the shots of James Harden and Jones. Gobert even grabbed his own rebound and put it in with ease, prompting McHale to walk down the bench and ask Joey Dorsey, a 6-foot-8 power forward to come in to provide some muscle.
McHale had a "What can I do?" look on his face.
Coming into the game, the Rockets were averaging 43.8 rebounds per game, 13th in the league along with 11.7 offensive rebounds per game allowed, seventh-worst in the NBA.
The past two nights, McHale wanted his team to attack the glass and be physical.
"We didn't hit them," he said of the game on Wednesday against Portland. "They hit us last night and they got us under the basket and we have to hit them early and create space for yourself so we get the ball."
Josh Smith said his team needed to do more gang rebounding.
"I'd like to see it," McHale said.
Howard can't return soon enough.