Nets-Magic Preview


Dwight Howard said he couldn't make out what the fans were saying when he took the court for what may have been his last home opener with the Orlando Magic.

It was pretty clear what the fans in New Jersey were chanting about the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year while the Nets were getting routed in their final home opener before moving to Brooklyn.

Orlando and New Jersey both open stretches of four games in five nights Thursday when Howard and the host Magic go for their eighth consecutive victory in this matchup.

Despite his recent trade request, Howard has been embraced by the fans in Orlando, getting cheered during a Dec. 17 scrimmage and Monday's home opener, a 104-95 victory over Houston. The five-time All-Star said he was too worried about helping the Magic (1-1) bounce back from Sunday's 97-89 loss at Oklahoma City to hear what the fans were saying.

"It was too loud," Howard said after compiling 21 points and seven rebounds. "I was just focused on getting out and having a great game and getting a good win for our home opener. ... I couldn't hear anything. I just saw people with beer, some hands and everybody screaming."

The chant of "We want Dwight" at the Prudential Center during New Jersey's 106-70 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday was a clear indication of how Nets fans hope the team will acquire Howard before the March 15 trade deadline.

Bringing Howard on board also may lure point guard Deron Williams to re-sign as the club looks to build interest before relocating.

A deal between the teams didn't materialize earlier this month, however, and a future trade may have taken a major hit when Nets center Brook Lopez - the likely centerpiece of an offer for the Magic big man - suffered a broken right foot in a preseason game against New York on Dec. 21.

Lopez had surgery Friday and will be out for at least six weeks.

Forward Kris Humphries, who returned to the Nets (1-1) by signing a one-year deal last week, has enjoyed a nice start with 32 points and 22 rebounds. But the team's lack of a premier inside presence could be problematic against Howard, who averaged 21.5 points with 13.3 boards in four wins against New Jersey in 2010-11.

If the Nets are going to snap a six-game skid in Orlando, they will likely have to improve their outside shooting. New Jersey is 11 for 50 from 3-point range this season.

"We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it," Williams said Tuesday after recording 10 points, one assist and six turnovers.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has not been pleased with his team's consistency, saying that no one - not even Howard - has had two good games, but he has to be encouraged by the play of starting forwards Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu.

Anderson, a former Nets first-round pick, is 8 for 20 from beyond the arc and scoring a team-best 16.5 points per game. Turkoglu has hit 5 of 9 from long range after making 3 of 4 Monday and scoring a team-high 23.

Orlando has won 13 of 15 versus New Jersey.