HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard was late for the pregame shootaround. So he knew that playing on his 28th birthday, and against his former team, the onus was on him to both atone and deliver.
Done and done.
Howard had 20 points and 22 rebounds Sunday night to lead the Houston Rockets over the Orlando Magic 98-88.
"I just wanted to get the win tonight," Howard said. "I'm just happy our team came out tonight, settled down and played basketball."
Howard became the first Rockets player since Ralph Sampson in 1985-86 to pull down 18 or more rebounds in three straight games.
Despite the positive outcome, don't expect to see Howard showing up late to any more shootarounds anytime soon.
"Bad example," he said. "I shouldn't have done it."
James Harden scored 27 points and also had 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets. Terrence Jones contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Jones scored 10 a busy third quarter when Houston pulled away for good, extending its lead to as many as 22 points. He also blocked five shots, stopping Victor Oladipo as time expired in the third quarter to preserve an 83-61 lead.
Chandler Parsons, who missed two games because of a sore back, started for Houston and had 18 points.
"Our starting four and five had 35 rebounds between them," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "James went and got eight rebounds, too. So that was big."
Glenn Davis scored 18 in Orlando's fifth straight loss. Arron Afflalo finished with 16 points and Jameer Nelson added 15.
"We just didn't play well," Davis said. "We can't make shots. It's not about the shots. It's about the defence. Everybody needs to be held accountable in making sure they do what they need to do, or it's going to be a long season."
Howard got off to a slow start offensively, but he amassed nine quick rebounds in the first quarter, thanks in part to the Magic's 7-for-22 shooting.
This was Howard's first game against Orlando in a Rockets uniform, having faced his first former team last season while with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Orlando made Howard the top pick of the 2004 NBA draft. He played for the Magic from 2005-2012, once led the team to the finals and remains Orlando's all-time leading scorer.
The Magic shot just 27.7 per cent (13-for-47) from the field in the first half. But they benefited from at-times lacklustre rebounding the Rockets, which led to second-chance points that allowed them to loiter around.
Orlando appeared poised to give the Rockets a tough test, scoring nine straight points to take a 9-2 lead. But the burst was brief.
"We just came out sluggish and weren't contesting shots, and we weren't rebounding," Howard said. "We had to pick our energy level up, and that's what we did."
The Rockets hurt the Magic from the 3-point line, making seven of 11 to erase that run by Orlando in the first quarter. Houston finished 10-for-33 from 3-point range against 8-for-29 for Orlando.
The Magic cut Houston's lead to 28-25 with a burst of hustle to open the second quarter, capped by a 3 from E'Twaun Moore. That's as close as Orlando got the rest of the way.
NOTES: The Magic missed C Nikola Vucevic (left ankle) for a third straight game. ... Rockets G Jeremy Lin (right knee) missed his sixth game but participated in pregame workouts. ... Houston tallied 10 blocks, its fourth double-digit game of the season.