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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets' defense helps defeat Denver, 108-96

Harden's triple-double; Howard's 26 and 13; and 25 from D-Mo lead the Rockets

Posted: December 13, 2014 -- 10:50 pm.

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Dwight Howard is back. After missing 12 games due to knee issues (and treatment), Dwight Howard played in his first NBA game in nearly one month. In 30 minutes of action, Howard scored 26 points; grabbed 13 rebounds; and blocked three shots in the Rockets 108-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets Saturday night.

Dwight Howard said, "Thank God that I'm back out there with the team; and, that I'm healthy. I had a lot of fun out there being back on the floor."

"He looked really good - especially coming off a couple of weeks of injury," said James Harden on Howard's performance Saturday night. "He looked really active. He rebounded very well and challenged at the rim which we were missing. He ran the floor very well."

"He looked great out there," said Kevin McHale of Dwight's return to action. "He covered up the holes for us defensively. He ran the court really well. I didn't really see any ill effects."

Donatas Motiejunas scored a career-high 25 points (11 for 19 from the floor); and, James Harden tallied the third triple-double of his career with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Harden described the triple-double as "nice". And, he added, "It just means I'm all over the place in a good way. I'm rebounding the basketball and making plays for my teammates and scoring. That's my job every single night; and, that's what I try to go out there and do for the most part."

Could the Big Two become a Big Three?

The Rockets (18-5) struggled to make shots in the first quarter (6 for 26 field goals) and trailed the Nuggets by 10 points (31-21) at the end of the first twelve minutes.

The Nuggets (10-13) shot 60% (12 for 20 field goals) in the second quarter; but, the shooting numbers reversed in the second period.

The Rockets tightened the defense and limited the Nuggets to 7 for 24 field goal shooting (29.2%); and, Motiejunas worked his magic in the paint with 13 points (5 for 6 field goals, including 2 for 2 from three) to lead the Rockets to their highest scoring second quarter of the season -- 33 points. The Rockets outscored the Nuggets 33-17 in the quarter to lead 54-48 at halftime.

"That's what we need to do," Trevor Ariza said. "Get easy baskets; and, when our defense is starting that, that's the best way to get easy baskets -- to find a rhythm and try to get it going."

The third quarter began with one 3-point bucket by Harden and another three by Ariza sandwiched around a lay-up by Motiejunas to boost the Rockets' lead to 62-50 with 10:03 left in the third quarter.

The lead stayed in double digits for much of the quarter before the Nuggets had a 6-2 mini-run to cut the Rockets' lead to 76-71 with 26.8 seconds remaining in the third. But, a dunk by Harden; then, a Nuggets' turnover resulted in an easy layup by Motiejunas closed out the third quarter scoring for an 80-73 Rockets' lead after 36 minutes.

Howard drained two jump hooks and split two free throws for five of the Rockets' 12 points during a 12-4 run in the first 4:22 of the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 92-77.

The Nuggets managed to get within nine points (98-89) before Motiejunas finished a fast-break with a dunk from an excellent bounce pass by Harden. Then, Howard scored five points during a 7-2 burst to put the game away.

Note: Harden picked up his 10th rebound with 0.1 seconds left in the game. He had nine boards during the final moments of the game; and, he nearly had rebound number 10 before teammate Troy Daniels knocked the ball out of his hands.

"I almost tackled Troy out of bounds trying to get that last rebound," Harden commented. "I mean everybody in the arena knew what was going on, but Troy. I'm lucky I got it at the end. I definitely had to talk to him about that."

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