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Game Day: Rockets at Pistons

Analysis and observations from Houston's 114-97 win over the Detroit Pistons

HOUSTON - After Dwight Howard torched Andre Drummond one final time Saturday night, Chandler Parsons leaped onto his teammate’s broad, bulbous shoulders to celebrate. The ensuing picture said it all. Howard had carried the Rockets all night – now the proof was there for all to see.

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Truth be told, however, the tangible evidence of Howard’s dominance was writ large in bold, capital letters wherever you looked, be it in the box score or simply all over the court. The 7-time All-Star spent the evening singlehandedly ripping the Pistons’ sizable frontcourt to shreds on his way to racking up 35 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots while elevating Houston to a sorely needed 114-97 victory over Detroit.  

Howard was dominant in every sense of the word on a night when his team desperately needed nothing less from him. With the Rockets already missing James Harden (ankle), Jeremy Lin (back) and Omer Asik (thigh), the club came into the contest already lacking much of its heavy artillery. And when Greg Smith (knee) and Patrick Beverley (preliminary reports revealed a fractured right hand) departed in the first half, Houston’s reserves were left thinner still.

The severe talent drain removed all mystery regarding the Rockets’ remaining formula for success. If they were to somehow emerge victorious, Howard was going to have to lead the way. With every spin, scoop, slam, swat and board, he did precisely that. And his teammates were only too happy to follow.

“Coach told me before the game he was going to ride the big horse,” Howard told CSN-Houston’s Matt Bullard immediately after the game. “He told me to get my saddle and giddy up.”

The horse analogy was fitting on this night, with Howard laying waste to Detroit’s game plan as if he were some sort of centaur preternaturally gifted with sublime skills in the ancient art of big man basketball. His board work helped Houston to one of its better defensive rebounding games of the season as the Rockets allowed Detroit – the NBA’s best offensive rebounding team – to grab just 21 percent of its misses (the Pistons typically average better than 31 percent n that category). He was, as always, a rim-protecting menace to any who challenged him near the hoop. In short, Howard’s all-around defense was predictably terrific. It was his incredible offensive impact, however, that figures to be most memorable. At the very least, rest assured it won’t be forgotten by Andre Drummond anytime soon.

Make no mistake: Drummond is a terrific talent. His professional potential is sky-high and he’s already so good (for proof, just check out how his numbers stack up to Howard’s age 20 season). But the Pistons’ precocious young center had absolutely no answer for handling Howard one-on-one tonight – a reality that was evident throughout the first half as Howard exploded for 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and 12 rebounds during the opening two periods of play. Howard took Drummond to school right from the opening bell, befuddling Detroit’s second-year center with a style that was equal parts skill and playground bullying.

Bear in mind, we’ve seen this from Howard before this season when opposing teams attempt to handle him without sending help. Remember his monster performances on the road against Dallas (33 points) and Portland (29 points in November, followed by a 32-point spree a month later)? The Pistons made the same choice, believing their bevy of interior size would prove capable of holding Houston’s pivot in check. Howard made them pay dearly for that decision.

The Rockets have spent the vast majority of the season enjoying a massive amount of offensive success playing inside-out basketball primarily based on the penetration and playmaking of its perimeter players. But without Harden, Lin and Beverley, Houston had to lean more on traditional tactics tonight, and Howard’s low-post superiority allowed his team to do just that thanks to his ability and willingness to both score and set up teammates with his proper, well-timed passing.

“He’s in a nice flow,” acknowledged Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “He’s taking his time and he’s taking the shots he wants to take. He’s not rushed. He’s going quick but not in a hurry – just in a nice rhythm.”

That subtle nod to the late, great and legendary John Wooden was appropriate because, to be sure, this was not simply a one-man show. Chandler Parsons was excellent, providing 20 points and 7 boards. Francisco Garcia feasted off of Houston’s impeccable spacing and ball movement, scoring 16 points and knocking down four 3s. Aaron Brooks and Omri Casspi, meanwhile, each pitched in off the Rockets’ paper-thin bench with double-digit scoring and seven assists.

As a result, Houston delivered perhaps its finest bounce back win of the season, coming as it did on the heels of that dispiriting defeat in Indianapolis the night before. Between the injuries that were piling up at a rapid rate and the road weary legs that were unquestionably feeling the burn, the Rockets could have easily rolled over. Instead they simply hopped on the supersized shoulders of Howard and rode him to victory.

The picture, the score and the smiles said it all. 

And-1s: There was no official word after the game on how long Beverley will be out due to his injury, although McHale did mention he expects to be without his starting point guard for "a while" and the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen reported that Beverley said he expects to be out four-to-six weeks. Beverley will be re-examined in Houston upon the team's return before an official timetable is revealed ... Jeremy Lin, who has missed the last four games due to a back injury, is hoping that he'll be able to return Monday night when the Rockets play host to Dallas ... Tonight’s victory upped the Rockets’ record to 18-10 for the season and also elevated the club’s mark to 6-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On Dwight Howard): "He played really well. He has been on a really good roll the last three weeks. Guys are getting a little more comfortable playing off of him. He was fantastic tonight."

(On role players): “I thought Aaron (Brooks) had a good game tonight. I thought Patrick (Beverley) really started off well. We are not going to have Patrick for a while which means that Jeremy (Lin) is due to come back."

(On overcoming adversity): "We just have to go out there and play. It does not matter how many guys we have. It does not matter who is playing or who is not playing. We just have to go there and play together and play with some toughness. Toughness and togetherness overcomes a lot of stuff."

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On game): "It was a huge win for us because Detroit is a very talented team. We're tough to beat no matter who's playing on our team. We have a very deep bench."

(On Dwight Howard): "Dwight was unbelievable tonight. He completely dominated the game."

(On Andre Drummond): "I'm a big fan of Andre Drummond. I think he's got a lot of potential and he's a real good player."

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On Andre Drummond): "He'll find his niche. It takes a couple years and he's got some of the best guys around him. I think he'll be fine."

(On game): "I just told my teammates to trust me and understand we play inside-out. I try to make the best plays I can for this team and I just want to win. The most important part about winning is getting everyone involved and we did an excellent job tonight."

DETROIT PISTONS HEAD COACH MAURICE CHEEKS

(On Andre Drummond defending Dwight Howard): “I’m sure it was (a learning game). Not just for Andre (Drummond) though. It’s not a one-on-one game. This is a five-on-five game when you’re out on the floor. Andre was playing against a really good player. Andre is a young player, got a little ways to go. Yes, it’s a learning experience but it’s not a one-on-one game.”

(On team coming together):  “We are still trying to get better, night in and night out. As I said to our players, there will be some nights when we will have good nights; there will be some nights when we have bad nights. Last night and tonight was not our best for sure. It was just not our best. We have to regroup, take our time and get ready for Cleveland.”

JOSH SMITH

(On how to stop Dwight Howard): “Most of the time, match his (Dwight Howard’s) physicality. It’s kind of hard because you have to try to take away something, tonight we didn’t do it. They were able to knock down some 3-pointers and when he had the ball in the post he’s effective.”

(On last night’s loss and its effect): “In this business you have to have amnesia, you have to throw last night’s game away and be able to focus on a pretty good team that came in tonight.”

(On playing 21 games in 35 days) “I don’t know, I don’t want to use that as an excuse it’s just the nature of the beast. You just have to learn how to take of your body as a professional and be ready to go out there and play.”