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Rockets-Magic Preview

AP - Sports

Last season, Dwight Howard was greeted rudely by Orlando Magic fans in his first game back against the team with which he spent his first eight seasons.

The question is whether the hatred and vitriol will continue Wednesday night when Howard and the Houston Rockets visit a Magic team that has won seven of its last eight at home.

Howard returned with the Los Angeles Lakers last March 12 and endured a chorus of boos throughout. He had 39 points and 16 rebounds in a 106-97 victory, matching his NBA record with 39 free-throw attempts.

The majority of the foul shots 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 man in the middle who replaced him with Orlando, Nikola Vucevic, had six points and 11 rebounds on that memorable night.

"It was a big game, it was Dwight's first game in Orlando since he left here," Vucevic said. "The arena was packed and obviously playing the Lakers, so there was kind of a special intensity."

The Magic (19-43) have spent their 25th anniversary season playing video tributes to former players, and one is planned for Howard in the first quarter Wednesday. The reaction of the crowd figures to be interesting.

Orlando doesn't seem concerned, one way or another.

"They (the fans) have been around when Dwight was here so for the most part, I think they're cheering for us and that's what matters," coach Jacque Vaughn said.

Howard had 22 points and 16 rebounds Tuesday and helped force LeBron James into a missed 3-pointer on the game's final possession in a 106-103 home victory over Miami.

James Harden had 21 points and 11 assists while Terrence Jones added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Houston (41-19), which has won 12 of 14. The Rockets placed all five starters in double figures in points.

"We are a balanced team," Howard said. "We have balanced scoring. We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hole but I don't think that should be our focus. The focus should be on stopping guys."

Howard had 20 points and 22 rebounds as the Rockets won 98-88 at home over the Magic on Dec. 8. Orlando did not have an injured Vucevic and forward Tobias Harris - the player who wears the No. 12 that Howard sported during his time with the club.

Vucevic is averaging 19.0 points and 13.5 rebounds in his last four games as he gets ready to bang with Howard inside.

"If he gets it going, it's very hard so you've got to do your work early, try to limit him as much as you can, keep him as much as I can away from the paint," Vucevic said. "I'm going to do my best, it's going to be a tough task but I'm looking forward to it."

Magic top scorer Arron Afflalo has returned to practice after missing the last five games with a sprained right ankle while Jameer Nelson sat out Sunday's 92-81 win over Philadelphia with a sore calf. Both remain day to day.

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