After getting referred to as "soft" in a quiet season opener, Dwight Howard is feeling good heading into the Houston Rockets’ first home game following a bounce-back effort.
The Boston Celtics hope to spoil Houston’s home opener after Rajon Rondo returned to spark a victory in their debut.
With Howard and the Rockets seeking their second straight 3-0 start, Rondo and the Celtics will try to open the season with consecutive wins for the first time in five years on Saturday night.
Cameras caught Kobe Bryant calling Howard "soft" – among other things – as the two jawed at one another in Houston’s 108-90 season-opening win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
Howard played just 20 minutes while battling foul trouble, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. The All-Star center, however, was more assertive for the Rockets on Wednesday as he hit six of his first seven shots on the way to 22 points and 10 boards before fouling out late in a 104-93 win at Utah.
”My health is pretty good and I am moving better,” said Howard, who battled knee and arm injuries in the preseason.
Howard had 32 points and 11 boards in a 104-92 win at Boston on Jan. 13, two months after Terrence Jones led the way with 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting in a 109-85 rout at home.
Rondo provided a surprising lift for the Celtics in their opener, finishing with 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in 30 minutes of a 121-105 home win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Jeff Green had 17 points and Kelly Olynyk scored 19 as eight players reached in double figures.
Rondo was originally expected to miss at least the first week after undergoing surgery on a broken left hand he sustained while slipping in his shower in late September. He didn’t decide to play until about an hour before tipoff.
”He looks like himself,” coach Brad Stevens said of Rondo, whose recovery from knee surgery limited him to 30 games last season. ”He kind of looks like what I saw on film before I got here. I don’t think he ever looked like that at any time last year. … But he is back to full speed. And it’s really good to see."
Boston looks to win its first two games for the first time since a 6-0 start behind Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in 2009, though it has dropped its last three at Houston by an average of 17.3 points.
Green averaged a team-high 16.9 points last season, but totaled eight on 4-of-17 shooting against the Rockets last season as Rondo missed both meetings.
Even with Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik gone, Houston has its first pair of double-digit wins to open a season since 2008.
James Harden has made 20 of 22 from the foul line while totaling 50 points despite a 37.1 field-goal percentage. Trevor Ariza, signed to a five-year, $33 million deal after Parsons left, has totaled 36 and hit 9 of 15 from beyond the arc.
”I think all of us have one goal and that is to win a championship," Howard said. "You can see that."
Houston is off to a hot start from 3-point range, making 26 of 56 (46.4 percent). Boston, though, ranked fifth in defensive 3-point percentage last season.
"They have a great scorer, a great big guy inside, and 3-point shooters," Green told the Celtics’ official Twitter feed.
Boston has lost its last four road openers.