Dwight Howard played the first 621 games and eight seasons of his career with the Orlando Magic. He’ll be competing against them for the first time Sunday night in Los Angeles.
With Howard coming off his best game with his new team, the Lakers appearing more comfortable in their new coach’s offense and the Magic struggling, the six-time All-Star seems to be in the better position to win any bragging rights.
The Lakers (8-8) acquired Howard in August with a four-team deal that also sent Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. The Magic received Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga from Los Angeles, Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington from Denver, Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic from the 76ers and five future draft picks.
Howard averaged 18.4 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks over his tenure with the Magic, highlighted by a run to the 2009 NBA finals. Orlando returned to the Eastern Conference finals the next season but failed to make it out of the first round in each of the last two as Howard’s relationship with the franchise soured.
“It’s going to be a little weird playing against my former team,” said Howard, whose averages of 18.6 points and 11.1 boards as a Laker are well below his marks from last season. “But we need a good win. So I’ll put all my effort into getting ready for the next game, playing with a lot of intensity and just having fun.”
Howard did that in a 122-103 home win over Denver on Friday, posting 28 points and a season-high 20 rebounds after failing to grab 10 in four straight games. He shot 12 of 16 from the field and made the second 3-pointer of his career – one of 17 by Los Angeles.
The Lakers had lost three of four but recorded their highest scoring total under coach Mike D’Antoni, who is 3-3 since taking over. They were only three days removed from a barrage of criticism after scoring 77 in a loss to Indiana in what already has been a turbulent season.
Los Angeles scored 71 in the first half Friday, finishing with a season-high 33 assists and shooting 54.0 percent. Kobe Bryant had a season-low 14 points – he’s averaging 26.9 – but handed out eight assists as the Lakers improved to 8-1 when he has five or more.
“It’s the way we want to play,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got a lot of talent out there, and it’s got to mesh, and the ball has got to move.”
Antawn Jamison scored 33 of the Lakers’ 61 bench points, their most since getting 66 against Dallas on Jan. 3, 2010. Jodie Meeks scored 21 on seven 3-pointers off the Los Angeles bench, which remains among the league’s worst at 23.6 points per game.
Orlando (5-10) won its first two games but has since dropped 10 of 13, with a 98-86 defeat to Brooklyn on Friday marking its third straight loss. Afflalo had a season-low five points to drop his average to 14.7, falling behind Glen Davis (14.8) for the team lead.
“I don’t care (about facing Howard and the Lakers),” said Davis, who hasn’t reached 20 points in a game since totaling 51 during the 2-0 start. “Dwight’s got his own problems and we’ve got problems over here.”
The loss of Howard was huge, but the Magic also have been decimated by injuries. Jameer Nelson sat out Friday because of a sore left Achilles tendon as Orlando fell to 1-6 without the point guard, who previously missed time with hamstring and groin injuries. Nelson is considered day-to-day and will be re-evaluated for Sunday’s game.
Orlando is still without Hedo Turkoglu (broken hand) and Harrington (knee surgery) and has started eight different lineups.
The Magic have won six of the last nine meetings, though Howard was at their disposal and had 21 points and 23 rebounds in a 92-80 victory in last season’s only matchup.