Retooled Rockets visit Portland

Signing of Howard transforms Houston

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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While the Portland Trail Blazers had a good offseason, acquiring good players in free agency to bolster their bench and the center position, the Houston Rockets made the biggest splash of the summer when they signed Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Howard was recovering from back surgery and still managed to lead the league in rebounds, averaging 12.4 a game. This season, through three games, he is averaging 17 a game.

The Rockets (3-1) and Howard visit the Trail Blazers (2-1) tonight at the Moda Center.

Robin Lopez said that he thinks Howard is more athletic this year than he was last season after back surgery.

“Definitely, yeah,” said Lopez, who will have the challenge of guarding Howard most of the night. “I had a similar injury in Phoenix and it took me about a year to get right. I did a similar thing, I came back and started playing with that injury. And I had my athleticism completely sapped.”

Another factor of Howard’s game is how often he gets to the line.

Behind Howard and his teammate James Harden, the Rockets are leading the league in free-throw attempts a game.

“We have to keep them off the line,” Wesley Matthews said Monday. “It’s a big thing they do between Dwight on the offensive glass and James (Harden) going in and creating contact.”

Defensively, Portland coach Terry Stotts said that today’s game should be a good test for how the Blazers want to defend.

The Rockets have been one of the league’s biggest pioneers — if not the biggest — when it comes to applying analytics to basketball. They have almost eliminated midrange jumpers, the shots Portland wants to encourage their opponents to shoot, from their attack.