Portland Trail Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge will be an expert on Dwight Howard by the end of his first-round series against the Houston Rockets. He's already sounding like one, telling Dan Patrick that Howard is still as good as he's ever been.
Patrick asked Aldridge, "Is Dwight Howard the Dwight Howard of old?" according to Trail Blazers beat writer Casey Holdahl. Portland's big man doesn't think much has changed:
To me, he is. I think he just plays a different role with this Houston Rockets team. He has more help and he has James Harden, who probably takes a little bit of that burden off of him. He still tries to be dominant down low, he still blocks shots. I think he still does all the things he did when he was in Orlando. I think he’s just has more help now.
Besides Harden, Howard is also getting help from small forward Chandler Parsons and point guards Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin. Add Terrence Jones and Omer Asik to the mix and we are almost certainly looking at the deepest team with which Howard's ever played.
The question was a fair one, though. Howard's production has been slightly down in each of the last two seasons (the 2013-14 campaign being played with the Los Angeles Lakers). Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points per game in 2010-11 with the Orlando Magic. He's averaged at least 20 points in four different seasons.
He averaged just 18.3 points this season.
But Aldridge's explanation is on point. Howard's efficiency hasn't take much of a hit—he still makes 59 percent of his field-goal attempts. He just isn't taking quite as many shots, thanks in large part to all that support he's getting.
Despite that support, Howard will look to get more touches in Game 2 and beyond. According to Ultimate Rockets' Jonathan Feigen, he said, "We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys. I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work."
Howard will also need to do more to contain Aldridge, who scored a career-high 44 points in Game 1. The real test of whether Howard's still a dominant player is how much an impact he makes on the defensive end. Look for him to spend more time guarding LA in Game 2.
If there's any doubt about the impact Howard continues to make, it's also worth considering the extent to which his club leans on his postseason experience. Many of his teammates don't have much of it.
To that end, Howard's leadership may be his most valuable contribution in this series. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski argues as much, writing, "Howard has to come to understand the most important lesson in leadership. The Rockets won't listen to the franchise star now as much they'll watch him. In crisis and calm, this is forever the burden of a superstar."
And Howard is most certainly still a superstar. LaMarcus Aldridge knows that.