EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — While a sprained left ankle spoiled Vince Carter’s return to New Jersey, it did nothing to slow down Dwight Howard and the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic.
Carter scored 16 points before leaving the game against his former teammates in the second quarter, but Howard more than made up for his absence with 20 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks in a 95-85 victory Friday night.
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“I heal like a young guy so I’ll be good tomorrow,” Carter said after sitting out the second half. “Hopefully, I’ll be back Sunday. We’re going to be smart about it. It’s a long season. I’m feeling better now that I am walking on it.”
Carter spent the second half in the trainers’ room and had his ankle wrapped. X-rays were negative.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Carter did not have a lot of swelling.
“We don’t have a timetable. Maybe we’ll have a better idea tomorrow,” Van Gundy said after the Magic won their second straight and handed the Nets their second loss in as many games.
What Van Gundy knows is that his team can tough it out, especially with Howard doing yeoman’s work in the middle.
“We had to grind it out,” said Howard, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first quarter. “Vince started out the game real good, hitting a lot of shots. It was unfortunate he hurt his ankle, but we were able to get a good win.”
Former Net Ryan Anderson, who was sent to Orlando in the deal with Carter, added 16 points, while Brandon Bass had all 13 of his points in the second half.
Courtney Lee, who was traded to the Nets along with Rafer Alston and Tony Battie in the draft-day deal for Carter, had 18 points. All-Star guard Devin Harris added 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting, but most of his points came after the outcome was decided.
Lee shook his head when asked about playing against Howard.
“He is there distracting a lot of shots,” Lee said. “He caught a couple of my shots that I thought I threw pretty high and he went up and got him. I’ve played and practiced against him for a while and I forgot how athletic he is and how he can jump.”
The focus of the Nets’ home opener was Carter’s return and the 11-year veteran did not disappoint his followers after getting a standing ovation from many in the crowd during the introduction of the starting lineups.
The eight-time All-Star drove down the right side of the lane for a dunk on the opening possession and was 5 of 7 from the field in the first quarter for 12 points. He finished 6 of 8 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
“That’s how they needed him to play,” Harris said of his former teammate. “In the preseason games they’ve been trying to get him going to start with and he came out and hit some jump shots. We weren’t aggressive on the screen-and-rolls and he took advantage of it.”
His night ended with 3:05 left in the first half. Dribbling around the top of the key, Carter stepped on Harris’ foot and immediately fell to the court, clutching his ankle.
Harris was not sure whether Carter stepped on his foot or Lee’s but the replays showed it was Harris’.
Play was not stopped for another 10 seconds as the Nets got a fastbreak basket.
“At that point you want to help him up, but I figured I’d take the layup first and see if he was OK,” Harris said.
Carter needed about a minute before getting up and going to the bench. He stayed there for about a minute and went to the locker room for the rest of the game.
While the Nets were within six points at halftime, the Magic used a seven-point run to open a 57-44 lead early in the third quarter. Howard started the run with a dunk. Jameer Nelson, who was limited to 3 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, then made two free throws and a 3-pointer for the 13-point lead.
“We never got back from there,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said.
New Jersey closed within 69-62 late in the third quarter before Howard tipped in a shot and Bass hit two jumpers.
NOTES: Howard missed his first six free throws in the first quarter and finished 2 of 9 in the quarter. He was 4 of 11 in the game. … Nets starting C Brook Lopez was in foul trouble all game and had 11 points. … New Jersey only had seven turnovers. … Orlando plays Sunday in Toronto, where Carter started his NBA career.