Rockets-Lakers Preview

The Associated Press

Dwight Howard had an up-and-down 2012-13 season for the Los Angeles Lakers, highlighted by injuries, internal disagreements and a first-round playoff exit.

Howard, who eventually turned down a lengthy extension offer from the Lakers, faces his former team in Los Angeles for the first time Wednesday night when the Houston Rockets visit Staples Center.

The All-Star center, who signed an $88 million deal with the Rockets in the offseason, has averaged 17.5 points and 11 rebounds in splitting two previous games with the Lakers this season - both of which came in Houston.

The Rockets (36-17) come out of the All-Star break riding a season-best seven-game win streak. Howard has been the catalyst during the surge, averaging 24.7 points on 60.0 percent shooting to go with 12.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

After clashing with guard Kobe Bryant and coach Mike D'Antoni a season ago over his role in the Lakers' offense, Howard has shown no such discontent in Houston.

"We enjoy each other," Howard said of his current teammates. "I'm happy to be here. The guys are happy to have me here and we're just having a lot of fun. I think the biggest thing for our team is that we're free, we're able to have fun with each other, but when we step between the lines we know it's serious."

The Rockets, who have won six of their last seven away from home, will be opening a five-game trip that also features Western Conference playoff contenders Golden State, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers.

"There's going to be some tough games," said guard James Harden. "We're on a roll right now but it's going to be some tough games when we get back and hopefully we can string (some wins) together."

A major key to its 6-1 road mark since Jan. 11 has been Houston's outside shooting. The Rockets have made 36.8 percent of their 3-point attempts over their last seven road games, a higher percentage than what the team shoots at home on the season (35.5).

The Lakers (18-35) have been struggling of late at Staples Center, losing seven straight and 13 of their last 15 home games.

Los Angeles went winless on a three-game homestand heading into the All-Star break after dropping the finale 107-103 against Oklahoma City on Feb. 13 despite a solid game from Kendall Marshall. The point guard scored 14 points, matched a career best with 17 assists and set a career high with seven rebounds.

However, the Lakers shot 59.1 percent (13 of 22) at the free throw line, one of their worst performances this season, and wasted a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

This game will be the last for both teams before Thursday afternoon's trade deadline, and the Lakers are the more likely of the two to make a move. Trade talk has surrounded veteran center and leading scorer Pau Gasol most of the season.

"As a general manager, we're always looking a year or two or three down the road," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. "Our approach going into this deadline might be a little different than it's been in year's past. We may look to shore up a position going into the playoff run. It may not be. But certainly I'm respectful and mindful of our record."

The Lakers have won six of their last seven against the Rockets in Los Angeles.

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