Dwight Howard faces the Magic for the first time as an opponent tonight, not counting all those times the last couple years when it felt like he was on the other side.
Maybe this is better: Dwight Howard is on the opposing team for the first time tonight as the Magic face Howard and the Lakers in Los Angeles. Small change in wording, big difference overall.
This isn’t really the reunion, though, not by any semantics. March 12 — Howard’s first game back in Orlando — is the reunion. That’s when the real emotions will boil up as fans in central Florida finally get the chance in person to wish Howard well on all his future endeavors.
A Sunday night in Staples Center doesn’t come close. The only potential for ugly is when Howard steps to the free-throw line, and the blame for whatever goes wrong there will obviously belong to Mike Brown anyway. The Magic have a new coach, a new basketball-ops staff, and only five holdovers who were Howard teammates last season: Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ish Smith.
There is the angle, as Josh Robbins noted in the Orlando Sentinel, that “Howard’s trade request, coupled with his subsequent stay-or-go saga, strained his friendships with some players on the Magic roster.” But the Magic are 5-10 and heading into a stretch of five road games in eight days, while the Lakers have lost three of five and have several better soap-opera plots to choose from.
So, there are a lot more pressing issues for both sides than whether Redick is out for blood. This one ranks somewhere in the 20s of compelling Lakers moments of the season so far.
Friday night, after Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds in the victory over the Nuggets, he was asked about the emotions heading into Sunday’s game against the Magic.
“Well, you know, it’s going to be a little weird playing against my former team,” Howard said, according to the Sentinel. “But we need a good win and (to) come out with a lot of energy. So I’m going to put all my effort into getting ready for the next game and playing with a lot of intensity and just having fun.”
There is that much. Tonight will be a little weird.
A reporter followed up by asking whether Howard remains friends with any current Magic players or whether he put the relationships on hold.
“Well, you know,” Howard said, pausing, “I put it on hold.”
The same goes with the actual Howard-Magic reunion. That is in March.