Updated at: 10/30/2013 11:05 PM
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
(AP) HOUSTON - Dwight Howard had 17 points and a career-high-tying 26 rebounds in his Houston debut, James Harden added 21 points and the Rockets cruised to a 96-83 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.
Howard spurned the Lakers to sign an $88 million deal with Houston, joining Harden and a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.
The Rockets led by four points in the fourth quarter before using a 14-4 run to extend the lead to 86-72 with about 3 1/2 minutes left.
Harden tossed an alley-oop to Howard for a dunk during that span. The crowd roared as Howard pointed and smiled at his new teammate.
Another dunk by Howard, this one a two-handed slam, capped the spurt.
The Bobcats were led by Josh McRoberts, who had 15 points.
Howard greeted the frenzied crowd just before the national anthem.
"I want to welcome you to the first game of a new age, a new team," he told the crowd. "We’re going to give you everything we’ve got every time we step on the court."
Houston coach Kevin McHale stayed with the big lineup he first used late in the preseason with 7-footer Omer Asik at center and Howard at power forward. But he switched things up and started Patrick Beverley over Jeremy Lin at point guard.
Beverley injured his ribs in the second quarter and didn’t return. Lin received stitches to his chin, but returned to the game.
Beverley finished with five points and Lin added 16.
Francisco Garcia had five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points.
Al Jefferson started after missing most of the preseason with a sprained right ankle. Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $41 million deal in the offseason, had 13 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
Houston led by eight points after a putback layup by Howard early in the third quarter. Jefferson got the Bobcats going after that, scoring four points in a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 51-48.
A 3-pointer by McRoberts about three minutes later got Charlotte within 57-56. But Lin answered with a 3-pointer that was the first of six straight points for Houston which pushed the lead to 63-56.
Houston led 67-61 at the end of the third quarter.
Charlotte is looking to bounce back from a terrible two-year stretch where the team posted an NBA-worst 28-120 record. They added Jefferson and drafted Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick in an attempt to bolster the lineup.
Zeller had two points and four rebounds in about 15 minutes.
The Bobcats were up by two about seven minutes before halftime before Houston scored 11 straight points to take a 38-29 lead. Harden made the first four points of that run before Howard drew a large cheer with a reverse layup.
Howard was given what at first was called a flagrant foul after what looked like a light push at the midsection of McRoberts with about two minutes remaining. McRoberts got in Howard’s face after the foul before teammates pulled him away. The play was reviewed and changed to a personal foul, but Howard went to the bench anyway.
McRoberts made both free throws and Howard returned in the third quarter.
NOTES: The Rockets picked up the third-year option on the contracts of forward Terrence Jones and forward/center Donatas Motiejunas on Wednesday. ... Former Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who retired from the NBA this summer, watched the game from a courtside seat next to team owner Leslie Alexander and got a loud ovation when he was introduced during a timeout in the second quarter. ... Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson watched the game from his second row seats. He’s been a season ticket holder for years but said he’d skipped quite a few games in the past. The Miami native and Heat fan is excited about the addition of Howard and said he plans to attend many more games this season.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)