NEW ORLEANS -- After missing the past 26 games with swelling in his right knee, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard will return to the starting lineup Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Howard will be on a minutes restriction for now.
"I'm just ready to play," Howard said after Wednesday's shootaround. "I haven't played for a while (and) any time you miss a lot of games, you're anxious to get back on the floor."
Howard said it's been difficult to sit.
"I never had a season like this before in my career," he said. "So it's kinda new for me to be sitting on the sidelines in a suit instead of on the floor. It was an adjustment, it makes you miss the game a little bit more."
Howard, who is averaging 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, has been missed in the frontcourt. The Rockets have been outrebounded in 16 of the 26 games he's missed. In the 32 games Howard has played, the Rockets outrebounded their opponents 18 times.
Although the team has missed Howard, shooting guard James Harden has morphed into an MVP candidate and is second in the NBA in scoring at 27.2 points per game. On Monday night, Harden scored 44 points in a victory over theIndiana Pacers. It was Harden's NBA-leading eighth game with 40 or more points.
The return of Howard likely will take some scoring pressure off Harden and help the Rockets up front.Injuries have been a major issue for the Rockets this season, yet the team is the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, two games ahead of fourth-seeded Portland.
The team is missing starting power forward Terrence Jones (collapsed lung), and fellow forward Josh Smith is playing through a sprained ankle.
Howard said he's expected to play about 16 minutes against the Pelicans, and as the season progresses the time could increase.
"I wish we had more time for him to practice," McHale said. "We're so beat up we don't have a lot of guys as we get through the season. So he's unfortunately going to have to use the game as some prep time, which is never ideal because it's hard to get game ready just by stepping in. A lot of times you need practice and rhythm and everything. He's going to have to do that during the game."
Howard, 29, has said he wants to return for the long run instead of rushing back only to reinjure himself and possibly cost his team more games. Howard last played Jan. 23, when he left a game with a sprained ankle, but after further examinations, it was determined he suffered from edema in the right knee.
In early February, Howard underwent a bone marrow aspirate injection and said he would miss six to eight weeks. That time has reached its end, and while the Rockets are 17-9 without him, McHale has said his team needs its star center.