HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard made his debut with the Houston Rockets memorable, tying his career high by grabbing 26 rebounds in a 96-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
Howard, signed this offseason following a tumultuous campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers, added 17 points and two blocked shots. He teamed with James Harden, who scored 21 points despite battling back tightness, to carry the Rockets (1-0) down the stretch. Francisco Garcia chipped in 19 points and Jeremy Lin 16 points off the Houston bench.
Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker totaled 12 points, five assists and four steals as five Bobcats (0-1) scored in double figures.
The opener appeared fraught with peril for the Rockets' starting backcourt of Harden and Patrick Beverley. Harden, who suffered a right knee contusion in the preseason finale at the Memphis Grizzlies, retreated to the locker room in the second quarter with back woes.
Beverley departed soon thereafter after taking a shot to the ribs and grimacing noticeably before staggering off the court. Harden returned with just over eight minutes remaining in the half but looked out of sorts. Luckily for the Rockets, Garcia and Howard helped carry the load.
Garcia scored 11 of his 14 first-half points in the second period, connecting on a trio of 3-pointers that helped the Rockets turn an early deficit into a 38-29 lead. Garcia drilled a corner 3 to cap an 11-0 run that pushed Houston to that nine-point lead. Howard helped the Rockets carry a six-point lead into halftime by dominating the glass.
Despite having to work around three first-half fouls, Howard grabbed 17 rebounds before the intermission, the most in a first half in his career. The Bobcats managed just fine attacking the rim despite the presence of Howard and Rockets center Omer Asik, posting 24 points in the paint by the close of the second quarter. But Howard and Asik combined for 27 boards by the break, seven more than Charlotte.
Walker was largely responsible for helping Charlotte build an early lead by running Beverley ragged off screens and getting in the paint for easy conversions. But despite holding the Rockets to 30 percent shooting in the first quarter, the Bobcats failed to extend beyond a six-point lead as their interior workhorse, center Al Jefferson, struggled with Asik defending him on the low block.
Jefferson finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
NOTES: Few players around the league underwent a more dramatic change of fortunes than Rockets PG Beverley, an unheralded midseason pickup from Russia last year and now a member of the starting lineup. "I'm just a firm believer in hard work pays off," Beverley said. ... Charlotte C Al Jefferson shook off a nagging sprained right ankle that cost him most of the preseason and took his position as the Bobcats' offensive anchor. "In order for us to play well consistently night in and night out, he has to be in the middle of it," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said of Jefferson. "He's our best offensive player." ... The Rockets' experiment of playing centers Howard and Omer Asik simultaneously is a league-wide talking point. "It'll be different for him because as talented as he is and as good of instincts as he's had, he's never done that," Clifford said of Howard defending against power forwards. ... Howard and Asik combined to average 32.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in three preseason games.