HOUSTON (AP) – Heading into a game with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale had his eye on a few matchups. A specific one that caught his eye was getting Dwight Howard in the post.
The plan worked.
With San Antonio missing big bodies Tim Duncan, who was rested along with fellow veteran Manu Ginobili, and Tiago Splitter (right calf tightness), Howard dominated the interior from the opening tip, scoring 32 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in leading Houston to a 98-81 victory.
Howard “rolled hard and got some late at the rim. He was really devastating on those high passes,” McHale said. “It’s important that he gets in a rhythm and plays. It doesn’t matter who is out there playing for them, he’s got to play well for us.”
The win runs Houston’s record to a league best 6-0 while dropping San Antonio’s mark to 2-2.
With no Duncan or Splitter inside Houston had a decided advantage down low and exploited it from the beginning, feeding Howard at every turn.
Whether on the pick-and-roll, at the elbow, or on alley-oop passes, Howard was the target and had a double-double – 20 points and 12 rebounds – by halftime as he exploited a vulnerable Spurs interior defence where Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayers, and Aron Baynes struggled to keep up.
When Howard was not scoring inside, James Harden filled the stat sheet, adding 20 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Rockets. While he had his share of points, Harden was clear after the game about the advantage of having a force inside.
The Spurs started the game sluggishly, going scoreless in the first six minutes.
While San Antonio rebounded and pulled to within 18-15 at the end of the first quarter, that was as close as the Spurs would get. The tough night finished with the defending NBA champs, who trailed by as many as 31, shooting just 34.4 percent from the field.
“It was a bad night tonight and I couldn’t hit a shot,” Tony Parker, who finished with just six points, said. “Defensively, we did OK, but we never got into an offensive rhythm.”
At Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points as Trail Blazers routed the Dallas Mavericks 108-87.
Portland trailed 50-46 at halftime but outscored the Mavericks 35-18 in the third quarter and Dallas couldn’t catch up.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 17 points, including 15 in the first half.