LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwight Howard wasn’t his usually playful self in the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room. He refused to answer certain questions and shared few personal thoughts about his ugly reunion with the Orlando Magic.
“It wasn’t emotional,” Howard said.
Maybe that was part of the problem — and one reason the Magic left the reunion with their biggest win of the season.
Arron Afflalo scored 30 points, Glen Davis added 23 points and 12 rebounds, and the Magic beat Howard’s Lakers in their first game against their longtime center, 113-103 on Sunday night.
Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds against his former team, but the rebuilding Magic rallied impressively with a 40-point fourth quarter for just their fourth win in 14 games, snapping a three-game skid. Orlando pulled the upset partly by intentionally fouling Howard, who went 9 for 21 at the line — including 7 for 14 in the fourth quarter.
The Magic made their decisive 12-2 run while Howard wasn’t helping the Lakers at the line in the final minutes, with Nelson and J.J. Redick hitting 3-pointers along the way.
Howard’s first few months with the Lakers haven’t gone the way he might have expected after the four-team, 12-player trade in August: a sub-.500 record, a shocking coaching change, an injured point guard and an unsightly amplification of Howard’s career-long woes at the free-throw line, where he has dropped to 46.5 percent (87 for 187) for the season.
“As a team, our effort wasn’t there,” Howard said. “We have to start the game with energy and play the whole game the same way. We didn’t do that tonight, and they capitalized on it and they got a win.”
Howard left the court after the game without shaking hands with the Magic — not that he has many close friends left in blue pinstripes anyway. Orlando has new coach Jacque Vaughn, a new front-office staff and just five players who played with Howard.
“Let Dwight be Dwight. If he wants to walk off the court, it’s cool,” said Davis, who overlapped with Howard only last season in Orlando. “No hard feelings. He lost. I’d feel bad, too. I wouldn’t want to shake nobody’s hand. We weren’t even really thinking about him. We just wanted to get this win. I didn’t talk to him. I’m here to play basketball. I’m not here to be buddies.”
Kobe Bryant scored 34 points for the Lakers, who dropped to 3-4 under new coach Mike D’Antoni with another inconsistent performance featuring deficient defense. Metta World Peace scored 15 points and Pau Gasol added 11 for the Lakers, who went back to poor form just two nights after a 122-point effort in a blowout win over Denver.
“Seems like we can’t get out of our own way,” D’Antoni said. “I think our problem is just not coming out with the intensity and the purpose that we need to have. … We’re slow right now. Just athletically, we’re struggling with young teams that run up and down.”
Jameer Nelson had 19 points and 13 assists after nearly sitting out with tendinitis during the Magic’s most impressive win under Vaughn. Orlando also started a stretch of five road games in eight days with just its second road win all season.
Afflalo, the former UCLA star who moved from Denver to Orlando in the trade that sent Howard to the Lakers, had his highest-scoring game in a Magic uniform.
“The way we lost the past three games, I’m sure our fans just wanted to see us win in general,” Afflalo said. “But for us to kick-start this road trip by playing well, against the Lakers in particular, they should be proud of that. It’s a huge confidence boost for us.”
Vaughn said before the game that the Magic wouldn’t hesitate to force Howard to beat them at the free-throw line in a close game. Howard missed seven of his first nine free throws against the Magic before finishing with more free-throw attempts than the entire Orlando roster, which went 19 for 20.
“That kind of got us out of our rhythm a little bit,” said Antawn Jamison, who scored 10 points for Los Angeles. “But it’s unexplainable … to play the way we did tonight after playing so well the other night.”
Howard spent the past eight years as the face of the Orlando franchise since the Magic plucked him out of his Atlanta high school with the first pick in the 2004 draft. He made six All-Star teams and won the NBA’s defensive player of the year award three times, leading the Magic to the 2009 NBA finals during five straight playoff appearances.
It all fell apart over the previous two seasons when Howard criticized the organization, flirted with numerous trades and eventually bumped heads with coach Stan Van Gundy. Howard missed the end of last season with a herniated disc in his back, and the Magic missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
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