The Los Angeles Lakers came into Orlando trying to regain their hold on the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but their 106-97 win over the Magic was much bigger than that in the grand scheme of basketball things.
An Orlando Sentinel editor in sports: "Not even the naming of a new pope is going to knock Dwight off the front page."— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) March 12, 2013
Just take a look at the billboards thrown up around Orlando for Dwight's arrival:
Check out this billboard in Orlando for Dwight Howard twitter.com/Ballislife/sta…— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) March 12, 2013
The Lakers came in to practice a few hours before the game, and a large horde of reporters stood and waited for a word with Howard for his feelings on the inevitable return and what he expected out of the crowd.
Howard made them wait.
And, as you might guess, there are a number of Orlando media members awaiting Mr. Howard: twitpic.com/cas7pn— sam_gardner (@sam_gardner) March 12, 2013
Mike D'Antoni jokingly encourages media to talk to Earl Clark about his return to Orlando. I said I'm waiting for Steve Clifford— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 12, 2013
Steve Nash probably just took the social world by storm with his comment "this is the longest Dwight has worked on his game after practice."— Dan Savage (@Dan_Savage) March 12, 2013
When he finally did come off the court (doubtless he was practicing his free throws for the hacking that would rain down upon him later that evening), Dwight seemed confident, apologetic and still firm in his decision.
Dwight said he didn't have any interactions with fans so far in Orlando— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 12, 2013
Dwight Howard said only thing he did in Orlando was go to Waffle House (Ms. Marsha wasn't there) and see his house.— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 12, 2013
Dwight Howard on emotions surrounding return to Orlando: "I'll come in and do what I do every night. That's the only thing I can do."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 12, 2013
From there, it was all buildup to the introductions and the actual tipoff.
Lots of gold in the lower bowl. More than I expected.— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) March 12, 2013
Of course, Howard came out and warmed up a bit before the game started, at which point he was met with a handful of boos from a reserved, anxious crowd. He reacted in the most Dwightish way possible.
Dwight came out for pre-game warm-ups to some boos, then started booing, too. Still a cut-up.— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) March 12, 2013
Once the lights dimmed and the time came, however, the Orlando fans were ready.
Jumbotron shows a Magic fan, clad in a shirt with an X'd-out Superman emblem, holding a sign that says "Welcome back Chris Duhon!"— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) March 12, 2013
The boos for Dwight were loud, but not as loud as I expected them to be, really.— sam_gardner (@sam_gardner) March 12, 2013
The game itself was relatively uneventful, save for the huge game Howard had at the hands of Orlando's Smite-a-Dwight ploy and a conversation he had with a fan during the third quarter (more on that in a minute).
The Magic were well in the game in the first quarter, but Los Angeles built a six-point lead by the end of the half.
D12 & T12 are killing it. Dwight Howard with 18/10. Tobias Harris with 15/9.— David Baumann (@DavidBaumann33) March 13, 2013
Orlando was able to tie the game once more at 59-59 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Lakers would go on to score 12 straight points and hold off the Magic for the remainder of the game despite constantly fouling Howard.
The biggest scrap between Howard and an outside influence came in the third quarter, when he was having a talk with a fan. One of two things was happening here: Either Howard was talking about this fan's mama, or they were debating on the best contemporary cellist, and Howard was backing Yo Yo Ma.
I'd say I'm 50-50 on what went down.
Dwight Howard has tied his @nba record for most free-throw attempts in a game, with 39. He's 25 of 39 from the line now.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) March 12, 2013
Dwight just got cheered as he walked off the court because there are so few Magic fans left in the building.— sam_gardner (@sam_gardner) March 12, 2013
As you can expect given that last tweet, Howard's postgame press conference was handled about as well as he handled the Magic big men in the post throughout the game.
Dwight ended up with 39 points (the most he's put up for the Lakers so far), 16 rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
It was a dominant game, handled perfectly from start to finish, with barely a hiccup throughout.