Howard won multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and led the Magic to just their second ever NBA Finals appearance in 2009. Howard's departure from Central Florida, however, was not a happy one. Although the Magic got the first laugh last season while facing their former center in Los Angeles, Howard has responded with big efforts in the last two meetings against his former team.
In the first game against the team that drafted him first overall as a member of the Houston Rockets, Howard had a monster night on Sunday, finishing with 20 points and 22 rebounds in a 98-88 victory over Orlando. Howard shot 6-for-12 from the field and added three blocked shots in the victory while being dominant in 34 minutes of action.
In his first meeting against his former team in his only season as a Los Angeles Laker, the Orlando Magic used a big fourth quarter to defeat the Lakers in what was arguably Orlando's most relished victory of a 20-62 campaign a season ago. The Magic outscored the Lakers 40-26 in the fourth quarter while Howard was a dismal 9-for-21 from the free-throw line.
The big final quarter was propelled by many of the pieces that Orlando had acquired in the Howard trade. Arron Afflalo, a Los Angeles native, hit big shots down the stretch while Nikola Vucevic, Howard's replacement at center, was throwing down dunks. Point guard Jameer Nelson, a player who had spent his entire career playing with Howard prior to last season but was never given his due by Howard, also hit clutch three-pointers down the stretch and consistently broke down the defense in a 113-103 Magic win.
Since that early-December contest a season ago, however, Howard has had his way with his former team. In his return to Orlando on March 12 of last season, Howard put up 39 points and 18 rebounds as the Lakers avenged the prior loss to the Magic 106-97.
Howard attempted just 13 field goals, but did something that he never seemed to be able to do in Orlando -- make free throws. Though the crowd that once wore his jersey booed every touch Howard received, he calmly knocked down 25 of his 39 free-throw attempts.
While the absence of Vucevic did not help the Magic on Sunday night, Howard did as he pleased versus his former team as Houston cruised to 15-7 on the season. In his last two games against Orlando, Howard has averaged better than 30 points and 18 rebounds per game. Icing on the cake of Howard's stellar effort was the fact that Sunday was the former Orlando center's 28th birthday.
Howard's Rockets have come on of late and are making a strong push to be seen as a contender in the Western Conference while his former team, Orlando, is just 6-14 and losers of five straight games. Nevertheless, it's hard for the city of Orlando to forget Howard or the way in which he left.
Howard won't make his return to Orlando as a member of the Houston Rockets until March 5 but when he does, the boo-birds are sure to be out in full force. While Howard has had no ill words for his former team and has seemed to have put his days in Orlando behind him, Magic fans have yet to do likewise. Until the Magic are competitive on an annual basis as they were when Howard was wearing pinstripes, don't expect that to change.
Mike Ferguson is a Central Florida native and an Orlando Magic contributor for Yahoo Sports.
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- Dwight Howard
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