HOUSTON -- The Lakers never like to talk about Dwight Howard, hoping his decision to leave them gets buried in a closet of awkward moments in Lakers history.
But already staggering from two horrid road games, the Lakers on Thursday play in the city Howard now calls home.
A mural across the street from the Houston Rockets' arena proclaims "Legacy of Bigs," and shows Yao Ming, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes and Ralph Sampson. Atop them all, with arms flexed, is Howard.
The Lakers were blitzed by questions about him Wednesday.
So why did Howard choose Houston's offer of four years and $88 million instead of the Lakers' five-year, $118-million deal in July?
"We knew there were some problems and we didn't know which way he would go," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Kobe Bryant and Howard didn't exactly hit it off last season, Bryant too serious for Howard's taste and Howard too goofy in Bryant's view. There was also the pressure of following the Lakers' legacies of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. D'Antoni didn't deny that his style of offense — always wanting to push the pace — factored into Howard's departure.
"Strange they try to do exactly the same thing here [in Houston] that we tried to do but that's fine," D'Antoni said. "He may be right but it's tough when you've got two Hall of Famers, three Hall of Famers, on the floor at the same time. Too bad. You're not the No. 1 guy we go to."
D'Antoni was referring to Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
Howard's play was also affected by back surgery a few months before getting traded to the Lakers. He also suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in January.
"I think a lot of it is you're not healthy, a lot of pressure, people are squawking," D'Antoni said. "There's just a lot of stuff that piled on and you can't fault him for it."
The Rockets (4-1) have been solid with Howard. He is averaging 17.4 points and a league-high 14.6 rebounds. The Lakers are 2-3 and losing road games by an average of 25 points.
Gasol tried to shine a light on what happened between Howard and Bryant.
"There was definitely a lack of understanding and connection," Gasol said. "There was days it was fine and everybody was on the same page. When things get a little rough, usually that's when tensions occur and come up."
After a season of hanging out near the three-point line, Gasol was privately thrilled to get his post position back after Howard left.
But Gasol acknowledges missing Howard now on defense, where the Lakers toil toward the bottom in points given up (109 a game).
"You don't have that type of shot-blocker back there that will bail you out some of the time," Gasol said. "And he's also a guy that gets his hands on balls, he's aggressive, gets a couple steals every game. These are extra possessions. We have to make up for that in different areas."
The Lakers will probably go with a big lineup against the Rockets, D'Antoni said.
He didn't provide details, but starting Jordan Hill instead of Shawne Williams seemed logical, especially after D'Antoni made that switch to start the third quarter Tuesday in the Lakers' 123-104 loss to Dallas.
The Rockets start Howard, who is listed at 6 feet 11, and Omer Asik, a 7-footer.