The Los Angeles Lakers walk into the Amway Center tonight winners of four out of their last five games and tied with the Utah Jazz currently for the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs race. However, with all due respect to the attention that the story line have received, it fails in comparison to what will take place tonight. ESPN First Take correspondent Stephen A. Smith said Orlando Magic front office personnel Nick Anderson stated in relation:
“Dwight Howard has no idea what he is in for.”
Today’s game against the Magic marks the return of Dwight Howard to his former residence of eight years. After a tumultuous last season in Orlando and demands to go to Brooklyn he returns as the Lakers new centerpiece with playoff aspirations on his mind. Orlando Sentinel writer Brian Schmitz has already named the buzz around his return to the arena the “Dwightmosphere” as all eyes are on Howard and how he will react to the fans, media, and his former teammates. When originally asked the question, via Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus of the LA Times, Dwight responded,
“I’ve thought about it. I think it’s going to be crazy,” said Howard, who played his first eight NBA seasons with the Magic. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.
“I remember the situation with LeBron [James] when he went to Cleveland for the first time. After the game, those guys were talking about how they were just trying to be there for him because they know how emotional it was. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be very emotional for me. Even just to talk about it just brings back a lot of emotion, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Yet as the day got closer Dwight began to approach the question in all seriousness.
“I’m just looking forward to being back in Orlando. It’s a place where I spent my life up until now,” said Howard, who played his first eight NBA seasons there. “It’s going to be difficult to see things, but I’m happy that I’m in a better place now than I was the beginning of the season.”
Dwight is doing all he can to prepare for the game. He’s even stated that he will “listen to boo tapes” so that he is not too bothered by the reception he will receive. Yet Howard’s teammates have noticed a change in him. Earlier today Steve Nash joked with the media and Dwight about his preparation for the game.
Recently Howard has taken heavy criticism from the Orlando media and his former teammates after he shared his views about his time as a Magic player. Dwight was known as the big fish in a small pond back then and discussed how he took pride among his teammates not being the best.
Howard inadvertently provided the prologue for Tuesday with a recent TV interview in which he said his teams in Orlando were “full of people nobody wanted.”
Howard quickly sought to clarify his comments, saying he merely meant to call his former teammates “underdogs.”
“Everybody overlooked us for the whole time I was there in Orlando and I hated that,” he said.
His former teammates did not take too kindly to those words as they responded hastily. Schmitz reported that Jameer Nelson, drafted the same year as Dwight and a center piece of the Magic franchise said,
“At some point, when are you [Dwight] gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson told the Sentinel after Wednesday’s shooatround in Miami.
Glen Davis even chimed in saying he was “shocked” by his friend’s quote:
Davis responded: “I’m really, really shocked. You know, amazed how he’s approaching this. I would think [it’d be best for] him to focus on his team and what he’s doing. You know, I’m going to let Dwight be Dwight. Everybody sees what he’s going through and how he’s feeling. I’m an Orlando Magic, and I love my guys that I play with, and that’s what I focus on. So, you let his comments be his comments, but his comments speak for itself.”
Dave McMenamin reported how Kobe Bryant said he would respond if in a similar situation:
“Just go out there and bust their [rear]. Show them what they’re missing. Save the emotional [stuff] for when you retire. Please”
The Orlando Magic are towards the depths of the eastern conference with a record of 18-46 and no real playoff hope. This game has been circled on their calendar all season long as this is the closest to the “playoff atmosphere” as they will get. The Magic have no true NBA star but have a very balanced offensive attack as four of their starters average double digit numbers.
With the hype surrounding the game the Lakers need to stay focused and take care of business. The playoffs are already looming and having confirmed that they are “scoreboard watching” a loss to Orlando will let the air out of the team and only cause for a tougher fight for the eight playoff seed. The Lakers have an easier schedule ahead of them in comparison to the Jazz, who own the tiebreaker between the teams. Post Orlando, they face a majority of opponents whom are below .500 while the Jazz must face a number of the NBA’s elite. Outside of Utah, the Lakers are also battling with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are 1 game ahead of both teams for the seventh seed in the playoffs and also face an easier schedule while trying to retain their position.
Dwight Howard can assert his dominance as he will be matched up against second year player Nikola Vucevic for majority of the night. It’s been speculated and widely assumed that he will receive a lot of early touches to get into a good rhythm offensively. There’s no telling how Dwight will react once the game begins. Regardless of the outcome, Dwight is a Laker and will have to put all the baggage behind him.
“All that stuff is over with now,” Howard said. “Today is a new day. Whatever happened in the past, I”m going to leave it behind me. Like I said, I have nothing but love for the fans here. They treated me well. It didn’t end right. It didn’t end the way we all wanted it to end, but I’m in a better place and everybody has to move on.”