LOS ANGELES -- Center Dwight Howard was back in Los Angeles for the first time as a member of the Houston Rockets on Monday, and an old nemesis made sure his return to Tinseltown was as difficult as possible.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who swept Howard and his Lakers last season, were up to their old tricks against him in a 137-118 victory at sold-out Staples Center.
The Clippers had an explosive, 78-point first half, getting Howard into early foul trouble. Los Angeles built and maintained a double-digit lead.
"They got off to a great start, and it's hard to play catch-up to that team," Houston backup point guard Aaron Brooks said. "That's a good team."
Shooting guard J.J. Redick led the Clippers with a game-high 26 points. Point guard Chris Paul added 23 points and 17 assists, and power forward Blake Griffin had 18 points and seven rebounds. All five starters reached double digits in points for Los Angeles (3-1).
Howard, who picked up three fouls in the first quarter and played just 6:27 in the first half, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
It was his first game in Staples Center since getting tossed from Game 4 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs last season while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. The defeat set the stage for a contentious summer in which Howard spurned the Lakers in favor of the Rockets.
"It was fun," Howard said of his return. "I saw a lot of old faces and people I made connections with."
The game was another story, as the Rockets allowed the Clippers to shoot 52.1 percent from the floor on 49-of-94 shooting. Los Angeles 15 of 38 3-point attempts (39.5 percent).
"It happens. We're upset about it, but we have to move forward," Howard said. "They had a great game tonight, they came out and did what they needed to do and got a win."
The Clippers did an effective job neutralizing Rockets shooting guard James Harden, limiting him to 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and point guard Jeremy Lin, who had 14 points.
Omri Casspi scored 19 points off the bench for the Rockets (3-1).
While the Clippers weren't happy with giving up 118 points, they'll take the win knowing their point total set a fast-paced tone.
"I thought we did a pretty good job of containing guys, but the game sort of got going that way, and that's how it turned out," Griffin said.
Added Paul: "It's funny because we haven't held a team under 100 points in four games, but I promise you our defense is better than it looks. What has to get better is our transition defense. When you look at it, when we get set, we have our principals, we're there and we're relying on each other. It's just spurts. It's going to get better, but it's a process."
The high-flying Clippers were in constant motion and attacking the Rockets from multiple angles. After letting Houston climb within 11 points with 7:28 remaining, Los Angeles quickly increased the advantage to 18 points on a dunk by center DeAndre Jordan, a jumper by Paul and a 3-pointer by guard Jamal Crawford.
Just like that, the Clippers led 121-103, and the onslaught was on.
Crawford had 21 points, making six of 11 3-point attempts. Jordan added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers, and Jared Dudley had 15 points, including three 3-pointers. However, the key early on was Redick, whose outside shooting is opening up room for Griffin and the rest of the Clippers.
"The guy can shoot the basketball, it's unbelievable," Griffin said. "The best part about playing with him is he never stops moving. It's not like one of those guys who spots up in the corner and that's all he does. He's just constantly moving and cutting. That's how he hits so many shots, he's constantly working for them."
NOTES: The Howard who showed up at Staples Center was different in more ways than the just the Houston uniform he wore. He is healthier than he was when he left the Lakers last summer. "I'm moving a lot better," Howard said at the Rockets' morning shootaround. "I'm going up to get balls I couldn't get last season with rebounds, blocked shots. All that stuff is a lot different. I'm doing a lot of work in the offseason to get my body back right. I feel a lot better." ... The Clippers are the highest scoring team in the NBA, but imagine how much more explosive they'd be if they cut down on their turnovers. Going into Monday's game, they were averaging 16.6 turnovers per game, and that didn't sit well with coach Doc Rivers, who was particularly bothered by turnovers in transition. Los Angeles gave the ball away 12 times against the Rockets, who committed 16 turnovers.