Dwight Howard expected to make return Saturday night vs. Denver

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Dwight Howard has been out 11 games with knee issues and, in what has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, the Rockets have still thrived going 8-3. However, if they are going to be a threat when they want to be in the postseason they need Howard back — they need his defense.

Looks like they will get that Saturday night.

Howard has been upgraded to probable and is expected to play Saturday night against Denver, the team announced. Howard talked like a guy going to play at shootaround, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

The Rockets have been an improved defensive team this season, playing almost six points per 100 possessions better than a year ago thanks to a better scheme and better effort from guys on the roster (including James Harden, who is trying harder but still has his moments). But they need Howard as that anchor in the middle, when he has played this season the Rockets defense is 10.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. The offense also improves with him out there.

It will be interesting to see how Howard and Donatas Motiejunas blend now. Motiejunas played well in Howard’s absence, averaging 15 points a game on 57 percent shooting in his last 10. He was getting more touches in the post, now those touches will come more at the elbow or out near the arc as he plays more of a stretch four role. If he can keep up his level of play it will be huge for the Rockets.

Also for Houston, Trevor Ariza is listed as probable.