Published March 13, 2013
| Sports Network
Dwight Howard's return to Orlando on Tuesday certainly was Magical.
He scored a season-high 39 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and led the Los Angeles Lakers to a fourth consecutive victory. On Wednesday, Howard and the Lakers shoot for five in a row when they take on the Hawks in Atlanta.
Howard returned to Orlando for the first time since the blockbuster trade in the summer brought the free-agent-to-be from the Magic to L.A. This season has been a struggle at times for both Howard and the Lakers, but his return went as better than he could've possibly imagined.
The Magic intentionally fouled Howard throughout the game to get the 57- percent free-throw shooter to the line as much as possible. He matched his own NBA record for most free throws attempted in a game with 39, and on Tuesday, he made 25 of them.
The strategy worked early as Howard went 2-for-9 to start the game. He made 23 of his final 30 and the Lakers pulled a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"It is closure. Now we can all move on," Howard said after the win. "I had eight great years here and people are going to feel the way they feel and I totally understand that. All that stuff doesn't phase me. I will always have love for the city."
The Magic fans booed lustily every time Howard stepped to the line. They might have gone horse.
"They can come to practice for free and watch them shoot 40, 50 foul shots," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni joked. "They don't even have to pay for tickets. I'll invite them all."
Kobe Bryant only managed 11 points in the win while Metta World Peace, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks all scored in double figures.
The Hawks were the latest victim of the Miami Heat. Atlanta became the 19th consecutive victory for the defending champs on Tuesday night to the tune of 98-81.
"Their team is really moving the basketball, they are playing together, they are playing at a very, very high level right now, and they're really good right now. We just got beat by a really good basketball team," Hawks head coach Larry Drew said.
The Hawks have not been a really good basketball team. They've dropped three in a row and six of their last seven. The only victory came at home over the Philadelphia 76ers one week ago.
Against the Heat, only three Hawks scored in double figures as the team shot 42.3 percent from the floor and 22.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. Atlanta committed 24 turnovers, which the Heat converted into 27 points.
Josh Smith led the way with 15 points and Al Horford and Jeff Teague had 12 points apiece.
The Lakers have won four straight against the Hawks, but the Lakers have lost five of their last eight in Atlanta.