For a fleeting moment, the truth washed over Dwight Howard and it felt downright transformational. Before the opening tip to the season, his eyes glanced to those Houston Rockets walking out with him: James Harden. Chandler Parsons. Loaded lineup, loaded bench. Championship contender.

"When I stood there and looked around, I thought to myself, 'I've got an amazing opportunity here, and I'm not going to let it go to waste," Howard told Yahoo Sports late Wednesday in a quiet corner of the locker room.

"It hit me there: This is what I chose. This is what I decided to do."

He smiled a knowing smile, nodded and repeated himself.

"I'm not going to let it go to waste," Howard said.

Howard wants everything this season, and everything began with the best rebounding night of his career: muscling, cajoling, clutching 26 rebounds and 17 points in the Rockets' 96-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

"I wanted to get 30 rebounds," Howard said. "I was upset I didn't do it."

After back surgery two summers ago, Howard's body was battered and never found its fitness until those final weeks of the Los Angeles Lakers' lost season. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash never did see the real Dwight Howard, the force of nature who could dominate games without ever taking a shot. Between a torn labrum, a regenerating back and bad chemistry, Howard was too often fighting himself and his surroundings. He was physically unfit to fight for the ball.
"My mind was on the ball," Howard told Yahoo Sports, "but my body was still on the other side."

No one inside the Toyota Center on Wednesday night has watched Howard play more basketball games over the past six seasons than Bobcats coach Steve Clifford. For five seasons in Orlando and another in Los Angeles, he was on the coaching staffs with the game's best center. The Lakers never did see the center who Clifford watched dominate for weeks and months in Orlando, nor the center who they'll see in Houston.

"He never moved last season like he's moved in this preseason," Clifford said. "He looks like a different guy."