Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and forward Metta World Peace discuss… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers (33-31) visit the Magic (18-46) on Tuesday night in Dwight Howard's first game as an opponent in Orlando.
Howard was drafted first in 2004 by the Magic, spending eight seasons in Orlando, including a run to the NBA Finals in 2009. After a difficult 2011-12 season, which ended with back surgery in April, Howard was traded to the Lakers in August.
The rebuilding Magic are in second-to-last place in the league. The Lakers slipped back in ninth place after the Utah Jazz won at home on Monday night.
Orlando took it to the Lakers in early December, scoring 40 points in the final quarter. Howard struggled as the Magic sent him repeatedly to the line, where he made just 9 of 21 attempts. Though that hindered the Lakers' offense, the team's defense was the main culprit.
Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 30 points. Kobe Bryant was the game's leading scorer with 34.
Nikola Vucevic has blossomed in Orlando. The young center from USC is averaging 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, and shooting 52.5% from the field. Against the Lakers in December he had 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
The Magic will be shorthanded with Glen Davis out with a broken foot, but Vucevic can be a lot to handle.
Howard has improved since the All-Star break, recovering still from the back surgery and shoulder injury (torn labrum) that held him back throughout the season.
Expect the Magic to intentionally send Howard to the line, especially in the fourth quarter.
Howard's going to need to convert, but if he can't, the Lakers can't just give up defensively like they did the last time they faced Orlando.
The Magic have a number of offensive threats including Tobias Harris, Jameer Nelson, E'Twaun Moore and Beno Udrih. The toughest matchup is Afflalo, who always seems to play the Lakers well.
Afflalo, from UCLA, is also an accomplished defender. Bryant's 34 points in the first meeting came on 27 shot attempts. The Magic guard/forward hit 4 of 8 from three-point range and 11 of 18 overall.
Bryant is playing some of the best basketball of his career -- hitting timely shots, scoring in volume and playmaking for his teammates. More importantly, Bryant needs to pay better attention to Afflalo defensively -- especially when he's moving without the ball off screens or camping in the corner.
The Lakers were briefly in eighth place but remain far from their goal of locking in a playoff seeding. They'll be challenged later in the week by the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers -- they need a win in Orlando.
Lakers: Week 20 predictions
Lakers to let Jordan Hill disabled player exception expire
NBA names Kobe Bryant 'Western Conference Player of the Week'
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.