Sometimes it takes a villain to fill a building and such was the case for the Orlando Magic in Tuesday night’s 106-97 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the much-anticipated return of Dwight Howard to Orlando, the Lakers proved too much for the young Magic and their former superstar center was simply masterful.
Howard finished the night with 39 points and 16 rebounds, both game-highs. He even shot 64 percent (25-for-39) from the charity stripe which is pretty good considering Howard came in shooting just 48 percent for the season from the foul line. There was a chorus on boos throughout the night from the Magic faithful, but in his return to the building he helped build, none of that seemed to matter to Howard.
Howard has put the city and franchise through a lot of grief over the past year and a half and just last week, Howard made some comments about his former teammates that guard Jameer Nelson and former Magic forward Rashard Lewis took exception to. Howard later said his comments were misconstrued, but after the game on Tuesday night, Howard said all the right things.
Howard spoke of the good memories he had of Orlando. He insisted that the Magic’s implementation of the “hack-a-Howard” will make him better in the long run. Howard talked about how the current Orlando team had been decimated with injuries and how the Magic will continue to get better as they become in sync with one another. He even insisted that Jameer Nelson was the leader that the Magic needed to whip the young guys into shape and get the franchise going back in the right direction.
Howard’s anticipated return is over and there was a sense that Howard left Orlando on Tuesday with a sense of closure and perhaps the same was true for the city of Orlando. For Howard, this past season has been a time of transition and for the Magic, the same is true.
While Tuesday’s game did not result in a victory, there were a number of positives for Orlando. 20-year-old Tobias Harris, who has been the best player involved in the late February deal that sent J.J. Redick from Orlando to Milwaukee, put up Howard-like numbers scoring 17 points and recording a career-high 15 rebounds. Rookie Maurice Harkless had a solid night with 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting and a pair of steals before fouling out. Orlando’s most veteran contingent, the backcourt of Nelson and Arron Afflalo, even outscored the Lakers’ future Hall of Fame backcourt of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash by a 38-22 margin.
For the first time in a long time, there was energy in the building as the Magic erased a double-digit first half deficit and took a 57-56 lead early midway through the third quarter. It was a nice reminder to Magic fans that there is a lot to build with moving forward.
While Orlando got solid efforts from Harkless and Harris, two of Orlando’s other key pieces for the future, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Andrew Nicholson did not. Vucevic, who played a huge role down the stretch of Orlando’s win over the Lakers in Los Angeles back in December, scored just six points. Nicholson played only two minutes, but despite that, the Magic managed to hang around with a Los Angeles team that came in winners of three straight and eight of their last 10.
E’Twaun Moore, who could man one of the guard positions or perhaps find a role as Orlando’s sixth man in the future, also had a sub-par night scoring only three points. But his lone field goal of the night, a three-pointer from the corner midway through the final period, capped a run that cut Los Angeles’ once 16-point lead back to single digits and helped revive some of the lost energy if only for a moment.
Howard’s return on Tuesday night did not turn out to be a night of vengeance or revenge, but a chance to move forward for both Howard and the Magic. The Amway Center was as loud as it had been since Howard was wearing pinstripes and a glimpse of what it could be again. Pieces are in place for Orlando to build around and some of them such as Vucevic and Harkless came by way of the Howard trade. For Orlando, there is the prospect of a very bright future and Howard even seemed to believe so himself following the game. The Howard era in the city of Orlando has been over and both parties can now move forward. On Tuesday night, he made his return and once again, Dwight Howard is gone.
Outside the Redzone gives you Breaking Sports News, Opinion and Analysis with a Southeastern Feel and be sure to “Like” us on Facebook!