NEW ORLEANS - Houston's Dwight Howard has returned from a 26-game absence, starting Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 6-foot-11 center contributed immediately, taking a no-look pass from James Harden on the baseline and throwing down a powerful one-handed dunk for the Rockets' first points.

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Howard, who is 29 and in his 11th season, had not played since Jan. 23, when he went out with a right knee injury. In 32 games this season, he has averaged 16.3 points and 11 rebounds.

He has returned against a Pelicans squad desperate to string enough victories together to sneak into the playoffs after returning from a winless three-game road trip.

New Orleans had two starters return against Houston: guard Tyreke Evans and center Omer Asik.

Evans missed the Pelicans' previous game with sprained left ankle, while Asik missed two games with strained right calf.