ORLANDO – The boos rained down on Dwight Howard, but he still kept his infectious smile. The physical play heightened in the post, but Howard surpassed it. The Magic fans hurled insults in his first return here since his offseason departure to the Lakers. Howard responded with dominant play.
Once the Lakers’ 106-97 victory Tuesday over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center became official, it’s clear that Howard’s negative reception seemed nothing more than an overhyped ride at Disney World.
There were plenty of visuals, such as a fan sitting behind the Lakers bench wearing a shoot that likened Howard to human feces. There was plenty of noise, including a few Magic fans heckling Howard during the national anthem. But once Howard stepped on what he initially believed could’ve been an emotional rollercoaster, it ended before he knew it and he appeared eager to ride it again.
The Lakers (34-31) won their fourth consecutive game mainly because of Howard handling that pressure and providing 39 points on 7 of 13 shooting, 16 rebounds and two blocks. His play also helped the Lakers absorb a poor shooting night from Kobe Bryant, who posted 11 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
Howard showed plenty of signs that suggested he embraced the hostile environment.
He immediately blocked Orlando’s Tobias Harris, who’s wearing No. 12, Howard’s number with the Magic. After Kobe Bryant set him up for an open dunk, Howard clapped his hands repeatedly at Magic center and former USC product Nikola Vucevic. The Magic adopted Hack-a-Dwight, a strategy that haunted them for too long wher