The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in Dwight Howard's return to the Amway Center, final score 106-97. With the victory the Lakers are once again tentatively the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Lakers piled up a 16-point lead, but the Magic pushed back in the fourth quarter cutting it down to nine. The Lakers regained a double-digit lead, however, and Howard and company took an early seat as the reserves finished out the game.
Howard was dominant throughout the contest, completely shutting down the Magic's pick and roll game. He did a fantastic job of challenging the ball-handler and recovering back to the rim. As Howard has shown since All-Star break, his conditioning and overall health looks to be improving with each game.
Dwight ended the night with 39 points, his season-high since becoming a Laker. Howard also kept his 12+ rebound streak since the All-Star break alive, grabbing 16 rebounds for the eleventh straight game. He was also active and effective at challenging shots, ending the night with four blocks. He notched his double-double in the first half alone, doing a great job of cleaning the glass. Howard spent much of the game marching to the free-throw line with the Magic electing to roll the "Hack-a-Dwight" dice. Howard shot 39 free-throws, making a season-high 25 of them from the stripe. Howard eclipsed Shaq's franchise record of 31 free-throw attempts.
Orlando elected to foul Howard enough for him to tie his own NBA record of 39 attempts. A great night for Howard to sink 64 percent of his freebies from the line.
The Magic hung in the game by riding recently acquired Tobias Harris. Harris had a double-double while scoring 17 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Jameer Nelson, the only player active who actually played with Howard when he was with the Magic struggled from deep making only one of his eight shots from beyond the arc.
The Lakers didn't need any heroics from Kobe Bryant to win the game, and he had a modest 11 points. He did a great job of finding Howard throughout the game, however, and finished with eight assists. Kobe also had seven rebounds, ever-so-close to a triple double. The Lakers' bench did a great job pushing the lead, specifically with Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake continuing to show some of that magical "chemistry". Jamison had 11 points, Jodie Meeks scored 10 points, and Blake added in 8 assists of his own.
Overall, the Magic struggled from the floor. Outside of Harris, who through the majority of the game was knocking shots down at will, the Magic couldn't buy a bucket if Colonel Sanders himself was standing on the baseline. They only shot 39 percent on the night, with Arron Afflalo going 6-for-18, Nelson going 9-for-19, and Harris going 7-for-17.
The Lakers travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks and finish their back-to-back before heading to Indiana on Friday.
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- Orlando Pinstriped Post covered Dwight's return to Orlando in great detail.