Rockets center Dwight Howard to return to the lineup in Wednesday's game against the Pelicans _lowres

Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard shouts to his team as he sits on the bench in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, March 12, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Jazz won 109-91. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard said he's ready to just throw himself out on the court after missing 26 games since Jan. 23 as he healed from a procedure on his right knee.

Howard was set to make his return Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans are 2-0 vs. Houston this season.

“Anytime you miss a lot of games, you're anxious to get back out on the floor and just play,” he said after Wednesday's shoot-around practicr. “Sitting on the sidelines, wishing you can play, it's tough. I haven't had a season like this before in my career.”

Howard's procedure involved injecting bone marrow into his knee. He had complained of soreness. Coach Kevin McHale said he Howard would ease back for now, playing on a minutes restriction for now. Howard said he expected to play about 16 minutes against the Pelicans.

“At this point, you want to find your rhythm heading to the playoffs and build up to that instead of coming back and playing 48 minutes and going the opposite way we're trying to go,” said Howard, who averaged 16.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks this season.

With 12 games left, McHale said that if Howard didn't return now, there would be no point in trying to bring him back.

The Rockets (47-23) went 17-9 without Howard. He said he expects the transition with his return to be relatively smooth, although the team chemistry has been good and guard James Harden has played at an MVP level.

“I've been watching for two months, and it shows you the spots you need to be in, offense and defense,” he said. “Defense it natural. The only thing with defense is timing. On the offensive end, it's being ready on the post, pick-and-rolls, whatever it may be.”

Part of why Howard is excited to be back is that he likes where the Rockets are now and their chances in the playoffs. They are the Western Conference's third seeds.

“We have improved so much from the beginning of the year to now, especially on the defensive end, and also with our communication,” he said. “We spent a lot of time on the bus and also in the locker room just talking about how we can get better as a team. And despite being out, I'm in all those conversations because we all have to be on the same page. We're more together than we have been in the past.”

Howard said he didn't want to force anything and disrupt the team, that he planned to just go out there and play, and he expected good things to happen.

“The main thing is that, come playoff time, I'm in really good shape, and I don't think it takes that long to get into a good rhythm,” he said.