HOUSTON – It was just one play among the dozens that were run during a week of pickup games and drills during an informal week of basketball in the mountains of Colorado.
Dwight Howard spun and broke toward the basket and Jeremy Lin heaved a pass that got away from him. Everybody in the gym thought the ball was sailed too high and was out of bounds.
But there went Howard rising up, higher and higher, like a ski lift during the winter season at Aspen. He snagged the ball out of the thin air and slammed it through the hoop.
“I was in awe,” Lin said. “I didn’t think there was any way he could get to that ball.”
Weeks later, Howard is still chuckling at the memory and nodding his head about what it could mean for the Rockets this season.
“He (Lin) was in shock that I actually caught it,” Howard said. “He hadn’t seen it. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that stuff.”
A year after back surgery forced him to practically limp into training camp for his season of darkness in Los Angeles, the 27-year-old says he’s feeling close to his old form.
“As you know, health is very important, not just to basketball players, but everyday life,” Howard said on Media Day at the Toyota Center. “For me, being healthy is gonna bring back a lot of the things I’ve been able to do in the past. I’m very excited about that. I think my health is coming back. I’m getting some of the bounce back in my legs.”
Howard chose not to look back at the season of disappointment and recrimination with the Lakers.
“There’s no need to get into that,” he said. “Every city is different. I like the people here. They’re great. They’ve treated me well, embraced me.
“The situation in L.A., it’s over with. It didn’t work out for both sides. So we have to move on. It happens in everyday life. People decide to do different things with their lives. It’s just that you’re in the NBA, at the top of your game and everybody wants to know what you’re doing. It is what it is.
“For anybody’s team to be successful, you have to have a great environment. You don’t want to work in a bad place. What happened in L.A. was just unfortunate. We were plagued by injuries last season and things that happened just happened. Like I said, it’s over. It’s done with. You can’t go back. I’m in a different place mentally, physically, and spiritually. So I’m looking forward to the season.”
Howard says he’s probably better prepared to handle the scrutiny that will come his way Houston than he was a year ago.
“Being in the NBA and being at the top, you’re gonna be scrutinized for a lot of different things,” he said. “You have to just stay away from it as much as possible. You got to take the good. You got to take the bad. You got to take the ugly and just do the same thing. You just got to go about your business. If you get caught up in the bad and ugly, it messes you up as a person and as a player. I think some of that happened last year. I allowed some of the bad stuff that happened to get in my head. I pushed myself away from people in certain situations. So you have to stay away from all that stuff, the negativity, wherever it may be and just focus on the task at hand.”
He’s heard the increased buzz about the Rockets around the basketball world during the offseason and he’s heard general manager Daryl Morey say that the team’s goal for the season is to secure one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“Seeds don’t matter,” Howard said “We want a championship. It’s the only thing that matters.”