Now that Dwight Howard is in the fold for at least next season, the Orlando Magic can shift focus back to a playoff run when they entertain the New Jersey Nets tonight at Amway Center.
After stringing along the Magic for quite some time, Howard decided that he won't opt out of his contract this summer. He had an early termination option in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season and also requested a trade back in December. New Jersey was one of those teams Howard had interest in, and the Magic could have dealt the All- Star if he did not sign a waiver that would void the early termination clause.
"I'm glad this is finally over with," Howard said at a Thursday news conference. "It's been very tough for me the past couple of months, to make this decision. I've gone back and forth and it's not as easy as people think. It's very hard, talking about a career-changing event."
Howard, of course, could put the Magic through the same shenanigans next season even though he expressed his love for the city and the fans. He is under contract through the 2012-13 season and leads the Magic with averages of 21.2 points and 15.2 rebounds, but his 22 points and 12 boards in Wednesday's 122-111 loss at San Antonio were not enough.
Howard has 36 double-doubles on the season.
Jameer Nelson ended with 25 points and seven assists for the Magic, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu scored 19 and 17 points, respectively. The Magic shot 52.3 percent for the game in the Alamo City and will put their 15-7 home record on the line Friday night. Orlando is four games behind Miami for the top spot in the Southeast Division.
The Magic sport a 22-10 mark against the East this season, going 12-4 as the host in those contests. They are 19-3 when scoring 100-plus points this season and third in the Eastern Conference standings.
New Jersey made a move before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday by acquiring swingman Gerald Wallace from Portland in exchange for center Mehmet Okur, forward Shawne Williams and a 2012 first-round draft pick.
The Nets have won three of five games and salvaged the finale of a three-game homestand by upending the Toronto Raptors, 98-84, on Wednesday. Gerald Green scored 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and Kris Humphries added 16 points and 21 rebounds for the Nets, who did not have All-Star point guard for a third straight game due to a strained right calf. Williams is expected to miss Friday's game in Orlando.
"It's not just me," Humphries said. "Gerald has come in on a 10-day and, look it up, I don't know if anybody has played that well ever. He is playing great."
New Jersey shot 48.1 percent and went 7-of-17 from three-point range. It's unknown if Wallace will be in uniform tonight and he averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds with the Trail Blazers this season. The Nets will play three straight and six of seven games at home after tonight's tilt in Orlando.
The Magic have beaten the Nets twice already this season and are riding a nine-game winning streak in this series. Orlando has won 13 of the past 14 matchups between the teams and seven in a row at home versus the Nets.