Howard leads Lakers beyond Magic 106-97 in his return to Orlando

ORLANDO – Dwight Howard scored 39 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and shot 25-39 from the free throw line to tie his previous record of free throw attempts in his first return to Orlando since departing, as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 106-97 on Tuesday night, March 12 at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando.

The Magic’s game plan was clearly to send Howard to the free throw line, as the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy worked in the first half as Dwight shot a poor 9-19, but in the second half he would answer back and end up with 25 points just from foul shots.

“I think early on it was a strategy that worked for us,” said Orlando head coach Jacque Vaughn. “We needed to use it throughout the course of the game, and to see if he can make them, and use the percentages and he stepped up and made them.”

Dwight made his return to Orlando and the Amway Center in a different uniform since he played his last game there on April 5, 2012 in which he received many cheers from fans. But that all changed as the cheers turned into boos all night long on every possession and trips to the free throw line.

“I was looking forward to coming back. I was happy to be here. It was a fun game,” said Lakers center Howard. “It was a hostile environment but it was something that was good for my progress as a player. I think I needed that tonight.”

Orlando (18-47) came out from the beginning of the game playing efficiently as they would lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Lakers (34-31) would take back the lead at the half 50-46. Howard would already have a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Tobias Harris (17 points, 15 rebounds) and Jameer Nelson (21 points, seven assists) lead the Magic offensively as they brought their team back within four points by halftime. The Lakers would respond and disallow Orlando to come within less then 10 points to finish off the rest of the game leading, as Kobe Bryant only scored 11 points proving his absent scoring wouldn’t matter.

“They got a lot of stops out there on the defensive end, they did a good job defending us,” said Magic forward Harris. “It was hard to execute in the second half, but they made a lot of free throws also so that kind of hurt us.”

Los Angeles would go on to compile 29 free throws in total and shoot 61.7% from the line, and the Magic would commit 35 fouls compared to the Lakers 16.

Despite the Magic defeating the Lakers 113-103 earlier this season on Dec. 2, 2012 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when Howard scored 21 points and had 15 rebounds to have a double-double, and Magic guard Arron Afflalo scored a season-high 30 points, the teams will split even this season as they won’t match up again.

“This is fun, I came back home,” said Howard. “This is the first time I have been back here since April. I was looking forward to being back here. Thank God it is over with. Like I said, this is something I needed and the city needed, it is closure. Now we can all move on.”

The Magic will commence a four game road trip starting with their next matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, March 15, and ending with the New York Knicks on March 20. They will return home on Friday, March 22 to face the Thunder.