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Lakers' Dwight Howard braces for unhappy return to Orlando

Dwight Howard expects a hostile reception Tuesday when he plays in Orlando for first time since the Magic, responding to his trade request, dealt him to Lakers.

March 12, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dwight Howard has a pretty good idea of what awaits Tuesday in Orlando when the Lakers play the Magic.

It'll be piercing and it'll be angry, the antithesis of the Disney World city.

"I'm going to start listening to 'boo' tapes," he said.

The object of last season's well-chronicled "Dwightmare" makes his grand return to the city he left to join the Lakers in a dramatic four-team trade last August.

"I'm looking forward to seeing my house," Howard said.

Anything else?

"I'm just looking forward to being back in Orlando. It's a place where I spent my life up until now," said Howard, who played his first eight NBA seasons there. "It's going to be difficult to see things, but I'm happy that I'm in a better place now than I was the beginning of the season."

Magic fans probably aren't happy that he's better.

He wanted out of Orlando last season, then apparently wanted back in but ultimately asked to be traded, with the Lakers emerging as his destination despite their second-choice status to the Brooklyn Nets.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi said Magic fans should give Howard a standing ovation Tuesday, though it was with tongue firmly planted in cheek, layered among references to Howard as Kobe Bryant's "sock puppet" and the Lakers as his "new girlfriend."

"Oh, sure, if anybody deserves to be booed Tuesday night, it is Dwight, whose arrogance and ego wrecked a franchise, cost people their jobs and ruined his legacy," Bianchi wrote. ". . . But what good will booing do except maybe making you feel better for a few minutes? If you cheer him — really cheer him — it will make him feel rotten for the rest of his career."

How so?

"He had his good name and his great reputation" in Orlando, Bianchi wrote. "He had admiration and respect. Mostly, though, he had the love and loyalty from his team and his town. Give him a standing 'O.' . . . Nothing could possibly hurt him more."

Here's what Orlando fans will really give him: Boooooooo!

Howard inadvertently provided the prologue for Tuesday with a recent TV interview in which he said his teams in Orlando were "full of people nobody wanted."

Ex-teammates Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis thought they were wanted by plenty of people. Lewis even implored everybody to "look at those banners hanging in the stands. They don't say Dwight Howard on them. . . ."

True, the Magic won the Eastern Conference in 2009. Then they lost to the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals.

Howard quickly sought to clarify his comments, saying he merely meant to call his former teammates "underdogs."

"Everybody overlooked us for the whole time I was there in Orlando and I hated that," he said.

The Lakers (33-31) obviously looked past the now-horrible Magic (18-46) back in December.

In that game at Staples Center, Howard buckled at the free-throw line, Pau Gasol was benched down the stretch, leading to Kobe Bryant's infamous "big-boy pants" quote, and the Lakers somehow surrendered 40 fourth-quarter points to one of the NBA's lowest-scoring teams.

Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds but made only nine of 21 free throws in the Lakers' 113-103 loss, probably their worst of the season.

The Magic picked on Howard by purposely fouling him four times in the fourth quarter. He made four of eight from the line via the "Hack-a-Howard" and was tight-lipped afterward with reporters.

What did he think about the intentional fouls from his former team?

"I don't have any thoughts," he said, one of the few times he appeared visibly angry this season.

Was a chapter closed by playing the Magic?

"That chapter was closed when I got traded."

Was he happy in L.A.?

"Obviously, I'm enjoying myself," he said almost morosely.

Those were the fun old days, with the Lakers hurtling toward a 17-25 record in late January.

Now they're two games above .500 for the first time this season. It has created a sense of calm for a team that likes to earn championships, not playoff spots. The former isn't even a consideration at this point, though Howard was closer to happiness when asked about his time with the Lakers.

"It's getting better," he said. "I'm being as patient as I can and trying to understand everything."

Patience and understanding. Two things he won't be seeing, or hearing, Tuesday night.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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