DeAndre Jordan has long been friends with Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. On Monday, for the first of two meetings in less than a week, the two athletic big men will be matched up against each other.

They’ve met 11 times previously, four of those games coming in Howard’s lone season with the Lakers. Jordan owned a 25-12 rebounding edge over the seven-time All-Star. But according to Jordan, Howard looks different than a year ago through three games with the Rockets.

“He’s definitely moving around a lot better than he was last year,” Jordan said. “I feel like he slimmed down a lot. I was watching a couple of their games and you can just tell that last year was still a little stiff and his back was giving him some problems. Hopefully, he’ll be back to the 2010-2011 Dwight and that will be better for the league.”

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said Howard, who had 26 rebounds in Houston’s opener, may not only be feeling better physically, but may also have more confidence.

“I don’t know if it’s health or confidence,” Rivers said of Howard. “It’s probably a little bit of both. When you’re coming off an injury, no matter who you are you still question what you can do as far as athletically and then that affects your confidence.”

Jordan knows a thing or two about playing with more confidence as well. While he’s not coming off an injury (Jordan’s started a Clippers record 161-straight games at center), he is coming off a season in which he was used sparingly down the stretch of games, something that has already changed through three games this year.

He’s played 36.0 minutes per game so far against the Lakers, Warriors and Kings and along with forward Blake Griffin has helped the Clippers control the paint in the last two, both victories.

With Houston in town on Monday, it could be one of the bigger, pun slightly intended, challenges for L.A.’s frontcourt tandem. Howard is playing alongside 7-footer Omer Asik, forming presumably the most physically daunting frontline Griffin and Jordan may face all season.

“They’re really big and there’s nothing much more than that,” Rivers said. “They’re big and dominant. They dominate on the glass, right now. They clog up the paint [and] make it tough to get to the paint. Dwight has been extremely active.”

Still, the Clippers have plenty of advantages in their frontcourt as well, according to Jordan.

“It will be as much of a challenge for us as it is for them,” Jordan said. “We’re definitely going to run them and I’m pretty sure they’re going to want to bang and things that we’re accustomed to. We definitely want to try to get those guys in as many pick-and-rolls as possible and run them as much as we can. Those guys are pretty athletic but we want to definitely use our speed and agility as an advantage.”

And in the process, Jordan said he can still learn a great deal from going up against his friend, Howard, who is one of only two active players to average better than 20 points and 10 rebounds since 2007-08 (the other is Griffin).  

“Anyone who is a post man who’s a huge offensive threat, I definitely want to play against to try to limit them to as few points as possible,” Jordan said. “It’s a challenge for me, but I love it though.”