By John Denton
March 12, 2013
ORLANDO – Dwight Howard returned to the city where he was once cheered and universally loved – a place he was still referring to as ``home’’ late Tuesday night – and was booed from the time he ran on the floor to when he ended the game with a wide smile splashed across his face.
Ultimately, Howard got the last laugh on Tuesday night when – shockingly – he made a staggering number of free throws and dominated inside against his former team, the Orlando Magic.
Orlando tried just about everything on Tuesday, ranging from and relying on a boisterous and booing crowd to the Hack-A-Howard, but little of it worked against the all-star center in the second half of a Lakers’ 106-97 defeat of the Magic.
``I think it was a good atmosphere for me to get my mind away and just play. I was able to do that, and thank God we got the win,’’ Howard said. ``I want to thank everybody in Orlando who supported me for my eight years here. I don’t care how many times they boo me, how many times they make the signs, whatever. I’ve still got love for these people.’’
Howard tied the all-time NBA record for free throw attempts with 39, a record that he set last January in a Magic uniform against Golden State. Much to the amazement of the Orlando fans who watched him struggle from the free throw line for past eight seasons, he made 16 of 20 in the second half and drilled his last eight attempts. For the game, he made 25 of 39 free throws to finish with a season-high 39 points and 16 rebounds.
``With any player, if you get 39 cracks at it (from the free throw line), it’s only natural for you to gain some type of rhythm,’’ Magic guard Arron Afflalo said. ``Usually the percentages kick in when you take five to 10. But when you actually make a few, you gain some confidence. And he did a good job of making them down the stretch for them.’’
A sellout crowd of 19,287 fans – just 24 short of the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Orlando – came out to razz Howard for his defection to the Lakers over the summer. During his time with the Magic from 2004-12, Howard became the Magic’s all-time leader in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. But he angered the fans who wore his jerseys and cheered his every move by forcing a trade in August. And they let him hear it on Tuesday.
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