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Q&A With Dwight Howard

Rockets' All-Star center discusses his connection with Coach McHale, playing pick-and-roll and rediscovering joy

HOUSTON - It’s a tradition. Every August and September we try to catch up with the team’s players to find out what they’ve been up to as they unwind from the season before while simultaneously ramping up for the campaign to come. Last month Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman provided an exclusive look at Dwight Howard’s workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon, and caught up with sharpshooting rookie Isaiah Canaan and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Thus far this month has found rookie Robert Covington, point guard Patrick Beverley, lead assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin in the spotlight.

Taking their turns in the hot seat today: Dwight Howard and James Harden.

JCF: How would you describe your first three months as a Houston Rocket?

DH: It’s been great, man. The fans have been great, the organization has been amazing. I’m just so happy to be a part of it all. This is my third team and just the reception I’ve gotten from staff and my teammates, all the young guys – even though I’m fairly young myself – it’s just added more life to somebody that is full of life, so I’m so happy about that.

JCF: Has there been an experience that stands out so far?

DH: Not really. It’s just everything. Everything from going out shopping and getting groceries and seeing how the fans treat me to just being in the locker room with the guys. I love it.

JCF: Just watching how you interact with Coach McHale, it seems as if you guys have already developed a strong connection.

DH: Oh yeah. I think Kevin sees a lot of potential in me and how I can grow as a player. I’m so excited to have him as my coach and just having the opportunity to really learn and grow from him. I’m just happy that he has more life than he’s had in a while. I think he’s very excited. Just watching him and just the few times I’ve been around him getting the chance to talk basketball and to share his past experiences with me, I really enjoy it.

JCF: Anything specific from some of those conversations that you can share?

DH: It’s not one thing that really stands out, but the biggest thing is how he talks to me. It’s just like he really believes in what I can do and accomplish on the court. He’s going to push me to be that and I like that. I want to put my trust in him and just sell-out for him.

JCF: From a physical standpoint, is there any way to compare how you feel today versus how your body felt a year ago when you were still trying to work yourself back from back surgery?

DH: I’m so much better. My body feels a lot better. The little aches and pains that I was having for the most part of last season are gone already. It’s going to continue to get better. I’m very excited. I’m excited about the possibilities of what I’ll be able to do this season because my body is so much healthier. It’s a big difference. Last year I couldn’t really move the way I’m used to moving until the end of the season. Some of my bounce is coming back. I’m so happy about that.

JCF: Do you have individual goals that you’ve set for yourself this season?

DH: I just want to win a championship and Defensive Player of the Year and get back on top.

JCF: You have an elite pick-and-roll practitioner in James Harden on your team and another very good pick-and-roll player in Jeremy Lin. You’re probably the preeminent pick-and-roll big in the league. Have you guys had conversations about the work you plan to do together in that regard?

DH: We’ve had a lot of conversations about it. The main thing that I tell any guard that I play with is that when I set the screen, attack that big. Make the defense make a decision. Make my man make a decision. If he’s going to stay with me, you’re going to get a dunk or a layup. If he leaves me, just throw it to the rim. We’ve talked about all of this. The biggest thing I tell those guys is that every time they get the ball in the pick-and-roll is to just be aggressive – it opens up the whole floor. I want to be aggressive in rolling, but there’s times where, the way that I set those guys up, it’s going to open up everything for everybody else. I’m going to get my shots.

People who know basketball understand the effects of a good screen-and-roll. It starts with the point guard, it goes on to the bigs and then the rest of the guys on the perimeter. So I’m looking forward to it.

JCF: I asked Jeremy about this but I want to get your take on it as well: tell me about your one-on-one games with him in Aspen.

DH: (laughs) I love playing one-on-one with the guards. Actually he won one game and then I won the last game. When I play against the guards it’s good practice for my defense because I want to get my footwork back to where it needs to be. So playing against those guards really helps me – that’s the biggest reason why I like to play against them; it’s all about defense.

JCF: You and James are going to have a chance to quickly establish yourself as one of, if not the very best, inside-out combinations in the league. You know what that means: people will try to come up with a clever nickname for that combo. Any creative ideas?

DH: (laughs) That’s tough. I’ll need to really go back and think about that. I think both of us, we just want to win so bad. We’ve come a long way together just in the summer time. We’ll come up with a great nickname, but we’ve got way more important things on our mind right now.

JCF: There was so much talk during your introductory press conference about joy and having fun playing basketball while winning at the highest level. Watching you play pick-up hoops and those one-on-one games, it sure seems as if you’re having a blast out there. Do you feel as if you’ve rediscovered that joy?

DH: Oh yeah. All the BS is over with. The last two years haven’t been easy. It was very tough to get through that, but storms don’t last forever. One thing that I allowed those situations to do to me was take my joy away. I can’t let that happen. These guys, especially these young guys, they’ve brought some life back to me. Just being in this city, the opportunities we have as a team and the things I feel like I can do for this community, it’s given me new life. I’m excited about it and just so full of joy to be able to get back to doing what I do, and doing it with joy.