The Orlando Magic chose Dwight Howard over the Charlotte Bobcats’ Emeka Okafor with the No. 1 selection in the 2004 NBA draft, but it was Okafor who got the better of his counterpart in the teams’ first meeting this season.
The top two picks in this year’s draft go head-to-head again when the Bobcats visit the Magic.
Howard was selected No. 1 overall by the Magic straight out of high school, ahead of Okafor, who led Connecticut to the national title as a junior last season.
In their first meeting against each other on Nov. 6, Okafor had 12 points and 14 rebounds as the expansion Bobcats won for the first time with a 111-100 victory.
Howard, in foul trouble most of the game, didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter. He played just 23 minutes and finished with five points and 12 rebounds, but insisted his poor performance had nothing to do with facing Okafor.
“I just got a little overanxious,” Howard said. “I played him just like everybody else.”
Okafor also downplayed the encounter with Howard while praising his opponent.
“Man, it was the Bobcats versus the Magic, that’s all,” Okafor said. “He really impressed me. He’s going to be an excellent player. He’s really a lot stronger than I thought.”
Okafor is averaging a team-best 15.8 points and 11.4 rebounds for Charlotte, while Howard is posting 10.3 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds for Orlando.
Okafor had 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Bobcats snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-84 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. It was the power forward’s 22nd double-double of the season.
“We needed (a win) badly,” Okafor said. “It gives us some confidence and now we’ll try to get Orlando down there.”
Orlando ended its season-high, four-game losing streak with a 105-87 win over the Seattle SuperSonics on Wednesday.
The Magic’s recent troubles stemmed from their slow starts, with double-digit halftime deficits in three games of the skid. It appeared they were doomed to repeat that trend after the Sonics extend their lead to 31-17 in the second quarter.
Orlando, however, finished strong to trail 49-46 at the break and the outburst continued after intermission. When Steve Francis hit a jumper with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter, it capped off a 40-13 run over a 12:05 stretch spanning halftime, and the Magic led by 15.
Francis scored 27 of his 35 points in the second half, and added 11 rebounds and six assists to lead Orlando.
“Steve was huge for us,” Orlando coach Johnny Davis said. “He made big plays throughout. Steve was the finisher on the play but our big guys were getting him open and the other guards were delivering him the ball in a timely way and that’s what execution is.”