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Rockets Game 1 win proves Dwight Howard is key to deep playoff run

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The Rockets are good enough to win without Dwight. But they are great with the big man in the lineup.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks comfortably last night, and they did it with James Harden making just four field goals and Dwight Howard playing just 17 minutes.

Newsflash: this is a really good team.

It seems silly to remind people of this, but it seems that it needs to be done. Yes, they may not have a killer team on paper, but they play well together, force turnovers, hustle their butts off and do excellent work in transition. That's a great recipe for success, and it worked in Game 1 with a 118-108 victory.

Those 17 minutes from Dwight Howard were a sneak-peek into this team's true potential. I've been banging the drum for weeks: he's back and he's capable of dominating a game in multiple ways. He had 5 blocks in 17 minutes, 11 points and five rebounds. In case you're not good at multiplication that's 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks if he plays 34 minutes, which he's capable of.

He got called for five iffy fouls. Some of them should have been called -- the blatant moving screen for No. 5 was really inexcusable -- but some of them definitely shouldn't have. He looked fresh, explosive and dominant. I mean, come on:

This is what the Rockets have missed all season long. It's what sustained them in the playoffs last year, when the team didn't have Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Jason Terry. Ariza had a double-double last night. Brewer scored 12 points in the fourth quarter. JET dropped 18, and Josh Smith played great defense (we won by 10 points so I'm not going to go into the tire fire he turned into on offense). This is a better team than last year.

Now, Dwight Howard is back. He looked back tonight. He started the game with a dunk and an alley-oop. He made Tyson Chandler look like a fool. "Playoff Rondo" disappeared whenever Howard was on the floor. Eventually, the Mavericks just stopped trying to get shots at the rim.

Dwight was so good, James Harden deferred to him. Harden had 11 assists and he was more than happy to be a facilitator on a night when he clearly didn't have a feel for his jump shot. He made just four field goals, and the Rockets won by double-digits. He drew double-teams well into the fourth quarter, opening up looks for everyone else, notably Corey Brewer.

Mike Tirico pointed out on the national broadcast that eight different Rockets average double figures in scoring. That's kind of a flawed stat -- all of the injuries have meant that those eight players have rarely played in the same game. But it speaks to the balance and versatility of this team. Everyone can step up.

With Dwight Howard limited by Joey Crawford (ahem), Clint Capela played more than expected. Joey Dorsey didn't see the court, something all Rockets fans were happy to see. Capela got outmuscled by Amare Stoudemire on the defensive end, but STAT shot just 2-11, so he did his part. He shot 2/4 from the free throw line, snagged 6 rebounds and was a threat on the pick-and-roll.

This was as encouraging a Game 1 as we could have hoped for. Dwight looked great, Harden was effective without his best stuff on offense, and the defense clamped down when necessary. All of the things we've talked about the Rockets needing to do, the Rockets did.

The amazing thing is, the Rockets are capable of much better things. That's the big takeaway from last night's game: the Mavericks can't hang with this team, and this team can hang with anybody.