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Howard launches Houston Rockets career in style

Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets is double teamed by Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats during their game on October 30, 2013 in Houston
Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets is double teamed by Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats during their game on October 30, 2013 in Houston

Dwight Howard lived up to the hype, tying his career high with 26 rebounds to help Houston post a 96-83 NBA season-opening victory over Charlotte.

Howard, the most coveted free agent of 2013, left a tumultuous 2012-13 season with the Los Angeles Lakers behind him when he signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets in July.

In addition to dominating on the boards, he contributed 17 points in his first game with his new team.

James Harden scored 21 points in the victory, Francisco Garcia added 19 and fellow reserve Jeremy Lin chipped in 16.

Lin, the Asian-American star who joined the Rockets as a free agent prior to last season after sparking a global following with the New York Knicks, downplayed the fact that Patrick Beverly got the nod as starting point guard.

"You have to look at the game as a whole, like how many minutes you play and what you do when you are on the floor," he said. "I don’t think it is a big deal. Everybody wants to start but only five can."

The Rockets -- who start the season with high expectations after the acquisition of Howard -- saw the Bobcats score the first six points of the game and trailed much of the first quarter.

LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers' Thaddeus Young pictured during their game on October 30, 2013 in Philadelphia
LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers' Thaddeus Young pictured during their game on October 30, 2013 in Philadelphia

The score was close through most of the second period, before the Rockets began to pull away.

Elsewhere on the second night of the season, the San Antonio Spurs, who endured a heart-breaking defeat by Miami in last season's championship finals -- defeated Memphis 101-94 in a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals.

Kawhi Leonard led a balanced Spurs attack with 14 points and seven rebounds, as San Antonio outscored Memphis 30-7 in the second quarter and led by as many as 21.

Spurs forward Tim Duncan left the contest early in the third with a chest contusion and did not return. He had three points and six rebounds.

Tony Parker, who had 13 points and nine assists, was one of six Spurs in double figures.

In an Eastern Conference clash, Brazilian Anderson Varejao's tie-breaking jump shot with 28.1 seconds helped lift Cleveland to a 98-94 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Cavaliers' win spoiled the Brooklyn debuts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, perennial All-Stars acquired along with Jason Terry in a blockbuster deal with Boston.

Pierce finished with 17 points and Terry made four three-pointers in a 14-point effort off the bench. Garnett scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Kevin Garnett (R) of the Brooklyn Nets defends as Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass during their game on October 30, 2013 in Cleveland
Kevin Garnett (R) of the Brooklyn Nets defends as Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass during their game on October 30, 2013 in Cleveland

"Give (Cleveland) credit. They came out at home and played with great energy and enthusiasm," Terry said. "Every time we made a run, they would answer it. For game one, we've still got a lot of work to do."

'Gritty, grimy, ugly game'

Mike Brown, back this season for a second stint coaching the Cavs, called it a "gritty, grimy, ugly game".

"Just kind of how I like it," Brown said.

The Nets were without their own new coach as Jason Kidd, taking the helm of an NBA team after retiring as a player in June, was serving a suspension for a prior drunk driving arrest.

Two-time defending champions Miami got a jolt Wednesday, falling 114-110 to lightly regarded Philadelphia.

The upset came a night after Miami opened their season by raising their 2012-13 championship banner in a pre-game ceremony then beating Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 107-95.

But the 76ers jumped all over the Heat from the opening tip-off. starting the game with a 19-0 scoring run.

Michael Carter-Williams impressed in his first career game with nine steals, setting a record for the most in an NBA debut.

Carter-Williams added 22 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds for the 76ers, who ended a string of 15 straight defeats to the Heat.

LeBron James tallied 25 points and 13 assists for Miami.

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