Howard's choices, work, led him here

The long training sessions with Olajuwon in the post haven't translated into dramatic improvement on the court. His efficiency on post-up plays remains well below average, scoring just 0.75 points per play, which ranks last among players with at least five post-up plays per game, according to Synergy tracking. His turnover rate on post-up plays (20.9 percent) is almost twice the league norm. Against a Portland team that wants to run, limiting those live-ball turnovers will be essential to the Rockets' success. This will be a tactical and philosophical challenge for Howard.

It's clear through his Olajuwon studies that Howard strives to be a maven in the paint, but it often runs counter to Houston's up-tempo style of play. The Rockets are at their best when James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons fly up the floor in transition and slalom their way to the rim. Will Howard be content in watching from afar in those cases?

"We got to play up-tempo," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Saturday. "We have to play before their bigs get down the floor. If the game was 3-on-3 full-court, what would the score be? Two hundred to 200. If we have a chance to play 3-on-3, why wouldn't we play that? I've never understood when they say you can't run in the playoffs. We have to get out and get our pace going."

While Howard may not partake in the fast-break scoring, he can spark it on the defensive end. Howard has begun to look like the two-way superstar of his Orlando Magic tenure. The Rockets are 2.2 points per 100 possessions stingier with Howard on the floor, and that's with a defensive-minded backup in Omer Asik coming off the bench. That improvement widened to 5.0 points every 100 possessions in games against Portland, emphasizing Howard's effectiveness against the Blazers' formidable front line.

To be sure, this is Year 1 of a four-year commitment in Houston. What Howard accomplishes over the next two months won't define his legacy. Far from it. But this is why he turned down the billboards and glamour of Los Angeles. For Howard, this is the redemption tour. Sunday is Day 1.

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