Not only did Thursday’s game usher in a new NBA season, it began the Dwight Howard era for the Atlanta Hawks. Howard’s homecoming couldn’t have gone much better. He was greeted kindly by the Philips Arena crowd and then went out and put up a dominant performance on the boards to help the Hawks to a 114-99 win.
There is a lot of things that you can nitpick about Howard’s game. This one was a great example. Offensively he was 4 for 9 from the field and for three quarters looked a step slow to react defensively. However, the one thing that can’t be nitpicked is his rebounding ability and Howard controlled the glass from the opening tip.
“I think Dwight has established himself as an elite defensive player and elite rebounder and an elite shot blocker,” Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the game. “He’s proven. His work and his commitment to everything we’re doing. I’m very pleased with it. I think it carried over tonight. His activity tonight. It really makes a difference and I think it can fuel us in our pace.”
Howard had nine rebounds by the end of the first quarter and 15 by halftime. The Hawks ended the game with a 52-40 rebounding advantage and a 20-6 edge in second-chance points. Some of that came at the expense of their transition defense (Wizards finished with 18 fast break points) but Atlanta will gladly take those numbers every night.
“I’m just happy that we came out tonight and all the hard work that we had ben putting in this summer and just what we had been doing in the preseason,” Howard said when asked about his debut. “We came out tonight and it just showed. We played great team basketball tonight.”