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           === 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
 healthy.
 
 "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
 play."
 
 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
 City.
 
 10/30 10:20:25 ET