Denton: A Reunion With Dwight in L.A.


By John Denton
December 1, 2012

LOS ANGELES – When the past comes colliding with the present and Dwight Howard is once again face to face with the Orlando Magic, maybe the fact that he’s wearing those despised purple armbands and a somewhat goofy headband will make forgetting a little bit easier.

Dressed in full-on Lakers’ garb – colors hated for years in Central Florida for Los Angeles’ heist of Shaquille O’Neal in 1996 and its defeat of Orlando in the 2009 Finals – Howard will certainly look the part of the villain to Magic fans. Hopefully, possibly and just maybe working up a healthy resentment for the stated enemy will allow the Magic organization and its fans to not think so much about all of the good times with Howard at center over the previous eight seasons.

Then again, Sunday’s showdown between Orlando and Howard’s Lakers could very well serve as a painful reminder of the ugly divorce that played out over the summer like a messy soap opera.

And make no mistake about this fact – Sunday’s game at Staples Center is all about Howard against the Magic. Rare is it where a game against the 16-time champion Lakers takes a back seat, but that’s clearly the case here with the headliners being Howard and his former team, the Magic.

Because of their own struggles – the Magic are currently riding a three-game losing streak and sitting at 5-10 – Orlando’s players mostly chose to ignore the game ahead against their former teammate. Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Hedo Turkoglu played with Howard in Orlando last season, but they said getting the Magic right is much more important than dealing with any Dwight drama.

Cracked Davis: ``I don’t care (about facing the Howard and the Lakers). Dwight’s got his own problems and we’ve got problems over here.’’

TROUBLE IN PARADISE?

While the Magic’s struggles this season certainly haven’t made losing a perennial All-NBA player any easier, the rocky start for the Lakers has made digesting the almost nightly national telecasts of L.A.’s games somewhat sweeter.

When the Lakers were 0-8 in the preseason, there were undoubtedly some snickers in Central Florida. When L.A. flopped on opening night against Dallas and limped to a 0-3 start those giggles rose to a discernible roar. And when the 1-4 Lakers fired Mike Brown, passed over Phil Jackson and settled on Mike D’Antoni, Magic fans had to be reveling in the angst on the West Coast.

Now 8-8, the Lakers seem to have finally steadied their ship and Howard – mostly recovered from the back surgery that ended his final season in Orlando prematurely – appears to be hitting his considerable stride just in time to face the Magic. Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds in Friday’s demolition of the Denver Nuggets and ended the night with the second 3-pointer of his career. His first 3-pointer, like so many of his NBA firsts and accomplishments, came while in Orlando and making a heave from halfcourt four years ago.

While there figures to be surreal feelings and nostalgia in the air Sunday night, the Magic are expecting to face a 6-foot-11, 270-pound center eager to make a point. The Magic are bracing for the impact, while also hoping they can land a few blows of their own and possibly pull off a shocker.

``I would assume he would be excited to play the Magic and I expect us to play hard,’’ Redick said. ``For (the Magic), it’s about building and hopefully getting better and winning some games. (The Lakers) are more focused on righting their ship and getting momentum toward a championship. It’s two teams in different places, but hopefully it will be competitive.’’

And then there was this from Magic second-year center Nikola Vucevic, who will initially be tasked with trying to stop Howard: ``Even if he doesn’t try to make a statement, he’s still a very hard player to guard. He’s probably the best player in the league. He’s very powerful and quick, so it’s always hard to guard him. Obviously, I can’t do it myself and we’re going to have to do it as a team. I’m just going to try to find a way to stop him.’’

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