ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Dwight Howard scored a season-high 39 points, had 16 rebounds and was sent to the free throw line 39 times by his former team as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic, 106-97 on Tuesday night.
The victory came in Howard’s first return to Orlando since his drama-filled offseason trade to the Lakers. He endured a chorus of boos throughout, and tied his own NBA record for free throw attempts.
The majority of them came as the Magic tried to employ an intentional foul strategy. It backfired, though, as the All-Star center hit on 16 of 20 attempts in the second half.
The victory was the Lakers’ fourth straight.
Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 21 points. The Magic have lost three of their last four and haven’t won back-to-back games since December.
After a week of back-and-forth in the media following some perceived negative comments made about his former team during a television interview, Howard and Nelson spoke briefly just after the final buzzer and shook hands.
It was a light moment in what was mostly a hostile atmosphere.
Homemade signs jeering Howard with sentiments that said everything from “Coward” to “Kobe’s Kid” were sprinkled throughout the Amway Center stands.
Boos rained down on the All-Star center almost every time he touched the basketball. They were followed by louder cheers when he missed a free throw.
The intensity was also ramped up at times, too.
Howard got tangled up in a verbal back-and-forth with the Magic bench at one point during the first half, and Kobe Bryant left briefly in the first quarter, bleeding from his right eye after a collision.
The Lakers led 76-68 entering the final period and scored the first eight points of the quarter to push it out to a 16-point lead.
The Magic battled back and closed to 91-82 on a 3-pointer by E’Twaun Moore with 6 minutes to play in the game.
Howard made four straight at one point and the Lakers got their lead back up to 102-88 on a 3-pointer by Jodie Meeks with 2:25 left.
The Magic kept up the strategy, but Howard — who was shooting 47.8 percent before the game — hit his final eight attempts to help close out the victory.
Howard embraced the negative environment from the outset and was the main reason the Lakers had a 50-46 halftime lead.
He had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the opening 24 minutes, and would have had more if not for his 9-for-19 effort at the line.
Howard started just 2 for 9 from the foul line, prompting the Magic to try fouling him intentionally three times late in the second quarter. He had found his touch by then, though, hitting five of six on those occasions.
With the exception of Tobias Harris’ 15-point first half, Orlando struggled offensively. The Magic had decent looks at the basket, but shot a paltry 37 percent (17 for 46) from the field.
They were also thin in the frontcourt for most of the half with center Nik Vucevic playing only 13 minutes because of two quick fouls. He went scoreless, with just two three rebounds.
Notes: Los Angeles now leads its all-time series with Orlando, 32-15….Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said that injured F Pau Gasol (torn plantar fascia, right foot) is starting to run again and “feels pretty good.” He said he will continue to be monitored to make sure there aren’t setbacks, but that “it’s close.”