Dwight Howard 'dominant' in Rockets' win over Kings

HOUSTON -- The rising Houston Rockets are getting strong play from not only their best player, James Harden, but from Dwight Howard, too.

Saturday night, Howard took on the challenge of facing DeMarcus Cousins, the temperamental and talented power forward for the Sacramento Kings.

Howard frustrated him.

Cousins fouled out with 2:14 to play in the fourth quarter, and Howard had his vintage smile lighting up the Toyota Center as the fourth quarter came to a close in the Rockets, 120-113 victory.

The Rockets have won three consecutive games and five of six. The latest victory can be attributed to Howard's efforts.

"He was dominant tonight," interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Howard.

Howard grabbed 18 rebounds, scored 22 points and finished plus-14 in the box score.

Not noted for hitting free throws, Howard went 8-of-14 from the line, discouraging any thoughts of Hack-A-Dwight late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has grabbed 15 or more rebounds the last two games and six times overall this season.

After taking Friday night off against Dallas for what Howard deemed maintenance, he displayed what Bickerstaff called "bouncy legs" on Saturday. He needed them against Cousins, who went 4-for-16 from the floor, grabbed nine rebounds and was minus-12 in the box score before his night ended with 14 points.

"We just want to go out there and win," said Howard, who has 44 rebounds over the last three games. "My concern is doing whatever I can to help this team win and just working on trying to win sets of games, right now every three games, and that was our mission tonight. It's never a battle between me and somebody else; it's whatever I can do to help this team win."

In the fourth quarter of what was looking like another close game for the Rockets, Howard did the things necessary to close the show.

Harden made two free throws to tie the score at 103-103 with 4:56 left to play. After Cousins missed an easy tip-in, Howard took over.

In the final minutes, Howard had four points, five rebounds and one block.

One thing that's becoming apparent under Bickerstaff is that he's challenging his players to do more. He wants Harden to reduce his minutes so he can become a more effective playmaker. He sat Ty Lawson, asking him to get into the flow of the offense with the second unit, and he inserted Clint Capela alongside Howard in the frontcourt.

Saturday night, Bickerstaff wanted Howard to guard Cousins. They missed each other in the first meeting on Nov. 6 because Cousins was injured and Howard wasn’t cleared to play in back-to-back games.

This time Bickerstaff had no doubt whom Howard would be covering.

"I think he was challenged, and he took the challenge," Bickerstaff said. "He had a key block down the stretch, one on one. The first time he drives, [Cousins] dunks, and the next time, Dwight holds his ground, takes a stance and blocks his shot. Again, we're confident in Dwight's ability on both sides of the floor."

There are moments when Howard looks a little slow as he runs down the court. There are other times when opponents have to alter shots around the rim and when there's a miss there is no doubt about who will grab the rebound: Howard.

And if Harden is going to take on the scoring load with help from his friends, Howard will maintain the lead on the defensive end to deal with feisty frontcourt weapons such as Cousins.

"I don't know what he shot," Howard said of Cousins. "My job was to go out there and try to stop him and stop their team from scoring and protect the paint."

Kings coach George Karl, who has seen Howard dominate the lane during his career, was very mindful of what the Rockets' big man is.

"Howard is a very respectful player," Karl said. "I'm disappointed because I thought it was a good fight. We just have to find a way to make it go and get ready for [next game]."

For the Rockets, Howard did his part in trying to build momentum for the next game. Friday night, Harden made a funky, bounce-around-the-rim shot at the end to clinch the win over the Mavericks in Dallas.

Saturday night, Harden was strong again, scoring 31 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 14-of-16 from the free throw line, yet Howard was the story thanks to his strong play.

"He had two good days of workouts and so he has bouncy legs. You saw that from him," Bickerstaff said. "The 18 rebounds along with 22 points, he was dominant."