A day after NBA fans finally found out where Orlando’s biggest star would spend his immediate future, one of the teams long thought to be his preferred destination got a reminder of what they missed out on.
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Dwight Howard scored 18 points, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis each had 13 and the Magic easily beat the New Jersey Nets 86-70 Friday night.
Ryan Anderson added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic, who built a 20-point lead and cruised from there. Orlando won for the fourth time in five games and extended its winning streak against the Nets to 10.
Reserve Gerald Green scored 15 points to lead the Nets. DeShawn Stevenson, who scored 11 points, was the only New Jersey starter to reach double figures.
Afterward, Howard found humor in his season-long saga, which nearly saw him dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline.
”You guys act like I went to another team and came back or something,” Howard said.
Had Howard not signed a waiver of his early termination option before the deadline, which will keep him in Orlando to begin next season, New Jersey was likely one of the six teams Magic general manager Otis Smith said put in offers for the All-Star center.
Smith was adamant that without a commitment, Howard’s eight-year tenure in Orlando would have ended how Howard initially wanted it after making a preseason trade request.
None of that mattered Friday, though.
Howard was 8 for 10 from the floor, but didn’t take this first free throw until the 1:56 mark of the third quarter as he was forced for most of the night to pass out of double teams when he got the ball in the post.
It did open up the floor for his teammates, who were able to get free for several open jump shots.
The game was never really in doubt as the Magic got makeable shots throughout and pushed the lead back to 20 in the fourth quarter against a short-handed Nets team that was missing starters Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to injury.
Though Howard’s usual high scoring was slightly down, it was clearly a night to celebrate the big man.
And the fact that Orlando avoided Howard possibly going to New Jersey wasn’t lost on the Magic’s fans, with signs praising Howard scattered throughout Amway Arena.
One courtside fan held a placard that read: ”I got 99 problems, but Howard ain’t one.” The song ”99 Problems” is by rapper Jay-Z, a Nets part owner.
On the court, Howard’s teammates also got in on the act.
With the game well in hand late in the fourth quarter, Jason Richardson caught a run out on a fast break and instead of going in for an uncontested layup tried to toss a trailing Howard an alley-oop off the backboard.
The play failed with Howard unable to handle the pass, but the fans still loudly applauded the attempt.
”It was great,” Howard said. ”Just thank all the fans who stuck with me through this time … showed me their love. It was great to see it.”
Howard had 10 points in the first half to help the Magic take a 46-36 lead into the break. His scoring effort was better than that of the entire Nets’ starting lineup, which produced just seven points in the first two quarters.
Davis was also was productive early with nine points.
”I was happy,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”I thought we did a good job on their starters. Their bench guys, Gerald Green got going, but I was fairly happy with our defense. The only thing I was unhappy with honestly was the 20 turnovers … again, just mindless.”
New Jersey also was outscored 26-10 in the paint in the half and shot 38 percent from the field (15 for 39). Green’s 14 points helped pick up the offensive slack and kept the score from getting out of hand early.
The Nets have now lost three of four as they prepare to open a three-game homestand Saturday against New Orleans.
”A tough one for us,” Johnson said. ”Seven points (for the starters) at the half, I don’t think I’ve seen that in a long time, if ever. But our guys, they played hard. Some shots didn’t go down for us … But we kept competing.”
Orlando heads to Miami on Sunday for its final regular-season meeting against the Heat.
”Everybody feels at peace for now,” Davis said. ”… Dwight did a really good job of following his heart and doing what’s best for him and this team. He believes in this team.”
Notes: Van Gundy said while it was nice to see the season-long Howard saga resolved it didn’t dominate his day when it went down. ”I was doing my New Jersey film, I don’t really remember exactly (when he found out),” he said. ”It was a big moment for our organization, but it wasn’t like the JFK moment where everybody remembers what they were doing. It wasn’t quite that big.”… Magic G Jason Richardson returned to the starting lineup after sitting out three straight games with a sprained left ankle. Without Wallace in uniform Friday, the Nets dressed 10 players. … Williams missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained right calf. Lopez continues to nurse a sore ankle and is expected to miss at least another week. New Jersey signed G Jerry Smith to a 10-day contract.