Dwight Howard had a dominant Rockets debut as Houston opened the most anticipated season in years with a 96-83 victory over visiting Charlotte on Wednesday at the Toyota Center.

Howard, the biggest offseason acquisition in the NBA, had 17 points and tied a career-high with 26 rebounds in front of a sellout crowd of 18,083.

“Amazing,” said James Harden, who scored a team-high 21 points despite fighting back stiffness the entire game. “Running the floor, obviously rebounding the basketball, taking all of my rebounds … finishing the basketball. Doing what he does. He’s a game-changer.”

It wasn’t the prettiest outing for the Rockets, who struggled to move the ball smoothly and suffered some minor injuries.

Harden, Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin all head to the locker room in the first half with issues. Bevereley was the most serious with a rib injury. He left the arena shortly after the game and was listed as day-to-day.

Harden finished with a team-high 21 points. Francisco Garcia added 19, and Jeremy Lin had 16 off the bench.

The Rockets, one of the fastest and highest scoring teams in the NBA last year, had seven fastbreak points.

“We did not play the way we normally play. We played very unlike ourselves,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, using the word “sticky” to describe the team’s offense. “We have a lot of stuff we have to clean up.

“We can still run a LOT better and get into a lot more flow. We will work on that for sure.”

Harden was in and out, stretching his lower back frequently. Lin got a couple stitches on his chat after getting a cut in the first half.