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Dwight Howard's return makes the Rockets even more terrifying

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Howard, who hadn't played since Nov. 17, returned from the knee injury that had kept him out 11 games.

Dwight Howard returned Saturday from a knee injury that has kept him sidelined for the past 11 games, and it looked like he had never left, scoring 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and three blocks. As if to prove it was really him who was back, he even went 8-17 at the free-throw line.

"I was really surprised that his wind looked as good as it did in his first stint," Rockets' coach Kevin McHale told Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen after the game. "I've said before, Dwight is a freakish athlete. He really is a hell of an athlete. It's really hard to take that much time off, a month, and then come back and have any semblance of rhythm at all. He looked good."

Howard has dealt with plenty of injuries throughout his career, but judging by his performance Saturday, the knee injury isn't one that will linger this season. Howard said after the game the only problems he had was the knee getting a little stiff when he went to the bench. When on the court, he looked every bit the freakish athlete title used by McHale.

The Rockets have been surprisingly resilient without Howard in the lineup -- including another game he missed earlier in the season, Houston is 8-4 in games where he's been absent. While it's not quite the 10-1 record they've posted with him, Houston has to be confident they could have survived another dozen games without Howard had they needed to.

But one look at his play Saturday makes it clear what he brings to the team. Individual +/- isn't always the best measure of success for an individual game, but it's telling that Howard was a game-high +35 in his 30 minutes. The Rockets only beat the Nuggets by 12, 108-96, although the final score was skewed a little bit by the final six minutes of garbage time.

In Howard's absence, the Rockets lost to the Warriors twice and the Clippers once, but also beat the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Suns -- all Western Conference playoff teams. Of course the Rockets will need Howard in the lineup to be competitive in a West playoff series come April, but you have to question just how good Houston can be as Howard reestablishes himself in the lineup. The Rockets aren't even at full strength yet, with Isaiah Canaan returning soon from a sprained left ankle and Terrence Jones still without a timetable for a nerve injury in his left leg, according to Feigen.

Regardless, it's good to see Howard back playing NBA games again, bad free-throw shooting and all.


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