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Rockets used to playing without Howard

OAKLAND, Calif. -- This is nothing new for the Houston Rockets.

They played 41 games without Dwight Howard in the starting lineup and won 27 of them during the regular season, although they were outrebounded 16 times.

Howard is questionable for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday because of a bruised left knee.

"We hope he plays," Rockets forward Corey Brewer said. "If he doesn't play, we've played without him the whole year and we just have to be ready to go."

In Game 1 of their series against the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets lost a 16-point first-half lead and never regained it in the second half. Coach Kevin McHale relied on rookie Clint Capela to play center and hoped power forward Josh Smith would provide help on the boards.

Capela scored nine points and had four rebounds in Game 1. Smith started the game strong and finished with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field along with seven rebounds. But Smith couldn't handle a James Harden pass that could have led to a layup and he threw a pass over Terrence Jones' head. Those plays occurred in a scrambling fourth quarter as the Rockets tried to steal a victory on the road in this best-of-seven series.

Harden was fantastic with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Smith and Harden scored a combined 18 fourth-quarter points during the late push, but the Rockets committed six turnovers in the final 12 minutes and allowed seven offensive rebounds.

"We got to come in and there's going to be a lot of long rebounds and long shots taken and guys have to step up and play big and play dominant in the paint," said Smith, who has started the last four playoff games. "[Howard] has done so much with the physicality with his presence down low in the paint; we have to try to mimic it if not exceed it if he's not out there."

Capela is used to playing big minutes after spending the majority of the season in the D-League. Once he was called up, he earned the trust of McHale, who gave him backup minutes when needed.

Now Capela might become the starter if Howard is gone.

"I didn't expect this when I was in the D-League watching the guys play in the regular season," Capela said. "I'm just here to help them and I feel good about them and I'm just trying to stay focused game after game, details, video and do whatever I can do."

If Howard does play, it remains to be seen whether he will physically be able to be the dominant presence in the paint the Rockets need. He warmed up several times during Tuesday's game and just couldn't get loose enough for McHale to leave him on the floor for extended minutes. Howard didn't have much lift and it seemed he was favoring the leg. He didn't practice Wednesday.

But the Rockets are used to the uncertainty with Howard's health this season.

"Nothing really changes," Brewer said. "Clint is going to start for him and Clint has been playing well. We still have [Jones] and we have Josh. We still have big guys, we just got to keep playing our game."