Dwight Howard returned to the Houston Rockets lineup Wednesday night for a tilt against the New Orleans Pelicans after missing the team’s previous 26 games due to a troublesome right knee.
In his first game back on the court since Jan. 23, Howard logged 16 minutes, scored four points and pulled down seven rebounds as the Rockets attempt to ease him back into action.
Since Howard last played, James Harden has taken over as Houston’s unquestioned leader on the court while putting up MVP-caliber numbers during the lengthy absence of the squad’s star center. Harden put the team on his back as Howard recovered and recuperated, leading the Rockets to a 17-9 record and solidifying its spot in the standings as the Western Conference’s current No. 3 seed.
Howard, in a moment of humility, admitted he recognizes how much has changed as he sat on the bench in a suit and watched Harden make magic on the court. Speaking to SI.com’s Ben Golliver, Howard indicated he needs to accept how the balance of power has shifted on the team and seemed to say he accepts that a sacrifice must be made to ensure the Rockets’ engine keeps humming along on all cylinders.
“To be honest, it has been a little tough,” Howard said on Thursday. “I sat back and analyzed everything, and [Hall of Fame Rockets center] Elvin Hayes called me one day. He said, ‘For this team to win, you really have to make that ultimate sacrifice.’ I didn’t quite get it at first, but I think I really understand it now better than before.”
Howard then likened the so-called “ultimate sacrifice” will come on the offensive end for him as he accepts his role in the system, likening it to how Wilt Chamberlain unselfishly altered his game to win a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972.
“He got that trophy,” Howard said, speaking about Chamberlain. “By the time we get to the playoffs and the next couple of years, hopefully we’ll get to the point where we’ll be able to win a couple championships.”