=== Howard takes flight when Rockets welcome Charlotte ===
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Dwight Howard era in Houston opens Wednesday night,
when the Rockets entertain the Charlotte Bobcats at the Toyota Center.
Howard was the biggest prize on the free agent market and the Rockets were
fortunate enough to acquire his services. The seven-time All-Star and three-
time Defensive Player of the Year opted to take his talents to Space City
instead of Los Angeles (Lakers) and Golden State.
"This is very special. Words really can't explain how I feel about being
here," Howard said. "It is a fresh start, a clean slate. I am looking forward
to doing it in Houston with these beautiful fans behind me. I think it is
going to be great. I am looking forward to embracing this city and giving them
everything I got."
Howard's one season with the Lakers was not glamorous. The Lakers played well
below expectations, squeaked into the playoffs and disbanded, due in large
part to Howard's departure.
Through the disappointment of the 2012-13 campaign, Howard's numbers dipped,
but were still extraordinary. He averaged 17.1 ppg (down almost 3.0 ppg from
the previous season), but led the NBA in rebounding with 12.4 per game and
finished fifth in the league in blocked shots at 2.45 a contest.
Howard will team up with fellow star James Harden, whose bruised knee
shouldn't prevent him from playing Wednesday. Houston made the postseason with
relative ease thanks to Harden and even took a few games from the top-seeded
Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets were the NBA's second-highest scoring team and one of the most
storied 3-point shooting teams in history. Defensively, Houston finished 28th
in a 30-team league in opponents' scoring under head coach Kevin McHale, who
was a defensive stalwart in his playing days.
McHale already made one tough decision. He announced that Patrick Beverley
will start at point guard over Jeremy Lin.
Overall, the Rockets should finish in the middle of the pack in the Western
Conference and could even host a playoff series.
Charlotte is not expected to do much this season and that's par for the course
with this franchise. The Bobcats went 21-61 last season and two seasons ago
had the worst winning percentage in league history. If not for a labor-
shortened season, Charlotte could have enjoyed the worst record ever.
The Bobcats suffered through an 18-game losing streak that spanned into a 1-15
December. They made an effort to improve by signing big man Al Jefferson to a
three-year deal and he'll contribute immediately. Jefferson has averaged 18.9
ppg and 10.1 rpg over the last seven seasons, all the while staying relatively
"The Charlotte Bobcats did a great job coming at me (in free agency) and made
me feel like they were a team that really respected my game and made me feel
like a part of the family," Jefferson said.
He injured his ankle at the end of training camp and his availability for
Wednesday night is in question.
Charlotte has a new man in charge in head coach Steve Clifford, formerly of
the Los Angeles Lakers coaching staff. He will be the sixth different Bobcats
coach in the last 10 years.
"I think the culture starts around the head coach and the team leaders,"
Clifford said at his introductory press conference. "They're going to set the
tone every day in practice and set the tone for the intensity every night you
Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon
and Ramon Sessions hope to make Clifford's first season a smooth one.
The Bobcats lost both meetings with the Rockets last season and are winless in
the last five games in this series. Charlotte has lost eight in a row in Space
10/30 10:20:25 ET