When the Houston Rockets agreed to a four-year, $88 million deal with All-Star center Dwight Howard, they did so with this time of year in mind.
Howard made six trips to the playoff with the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers before signing with the Rockets last summer. While some stars shrink with the pressure that the postseason brings, Howard has thrived.
In his first 63 playoff games, Howard has averaged 20 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks on 59.6 percent shooting. While he has yet to win an NBA title, Howard did carry the 2008-09 Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now down 2-0 to the Portland Trail Blazers in their first round series, the Rockets need Howard to continue his dominant postseason ways. When it comes down to playing style, Howard has his opinion on what it will take to beat the Blazers.
“We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys,” Howard told the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday (via ESPN.com). “I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.”
An effective inside-out game will be key for the Rockets tonight just as it was for the Magic with Howard from 2006-2011. While in Orlando, Howard was surrounded by effective three-point shooters like Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson, Vince Carter, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson.
The Rockets have assembled a similar three-point shooting barrage around Howard with James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverly and Francisco Garcia. The Rockets finished the regular season ranked first in the NBA in both three-point makes and attempts, yet were just 16th in the league in percentage (35.8 percent).
In the playoffs, teams win with talent, experience, or both. Howard is just 28, yet stands as the third-oldest player on the roster behind Garcia (33) and Josh Powell (31). While the Rockets are low on experience, they pack plenty of star power led by Howard.
Houston won’t get far in the playoffs with Howard just playing good. They need him to be dominant, like he’s been so many times before. In his six previous trips to the postseason, Howard has led all players in total rebounding and defensive rating three times. He’s also finished first in the playoffs in blocked shots, total rebound percentage and defensive rebound percentage twice.
Another key for Howard and the Rockets will be his free throw shooting. Given his low career percentage (57.4 percent) from the charity stripe, teams will often look to deploy the “Hack-a-Dwight” strategy to force him to the foul line. Howard has proven at times to be a solid foul shooter, connecting on 68.2 percent of his attempts during the 2011 playoffs with Orlando.
The Rockets need Howard to return to his dominant playoff form if they want any chance of coming back against the Blazers and making a playoff run.
-All stats via basketball-reference.com.