Howard scores 39, leads Lakers past Magic 106-97
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Dwight Howard endured the worst reception of his NBA career on Tuesday night.
He then promptly turned in probably his best performance of this season.
Howard scored a season-high 39 points, had 16 rebounds and was sent to the free throw line 39 times by his former team as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic, 106-97.
The victory came in Howard's first return to Orlando since his drama-filled offseason trade to the Lakers. He endured a chorus of boos throughout, and tied his own NBA record for free throw attempts.
The majority of them came as the Magic tried to employ an intentional foul strategy. It backfired, though, as the All-Star center hit on 16 of 20 attempts in the second half. It silenced his detractors and more importantly, helped the Lakers secure their fourth straight victory and keep from slipping in their playoff chase.
His reception aside, Howard said he left the court still thankful for the support he got during his eight years in Orlando.
"I wasn't nervous tonight. I was looking forward to playing here," Howard said. "It was a hostile environment, but I think that was something that was good for me. For my progress as a player, I think I needed that tonight."
Jameer Nelson scored 21 points, but also had six of Orlando's 14 turnovers. The Magic have lost three of their last four and haven't won back-to-back games since December. They also missed on their first season sweep of the Lakers since 2008-09.
After a week of back-and-forth in the media following some perceived negative comments made about his former team during a television interview, Howard and Nelson spoke briefly just after the final buzzer and shook hands.
"Everybody's always going to say certain things in order to start certain situations," Howard said. "But Jameer's my brother. We came in together, and I have no bad feelings toward him."
The embrace was a light moment in what was mostly a hostile atmosphere.
Homemade signs jeering Howard with sentiments that said everything from "Coward" to "Kobe's Kid" were sprinkled throughout the Amway Center stands.
Boos rained down on the All-Star center almost every time he touched the basketball. They were followed by louder cheers when he missed a free throw.
The intensity was also ramped up at times, too.
Howard got tangled up in a verbal back-and-forth with the Magic bench at one point during the first half, and Kobe Bryant left briefly in the first quarter, bleeding from his right eye after a collision.
"I think professionally it was really big for him," Bryant said of Howard's night. "Coming into this environment, playing as well as he did, it's big for his confidence."