Howard hopes for Magical return to Orlando

Orlando Magic fans may need throat lozenges after Tuesday's matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center, where Dwight Howard will make his much-anticipated return to his old stomping grounds.

The All-Star more commonly known as "Dwightmare" to the folks in central Florida joined the Lakers last summer in a four-team deal and spent the first eight years of his career with the Magic. Howard left mixed emotions with the fans of the Magic, waffling back and forth as to whether he wanted to stay or go. Ultimately, Howard was granted his wish of being traded.

Howard was a six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year during his time in Orlando. He averaged 18.4 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.16 blocks with the Magic, who selected him with the first overall pick of the 2004 draft.

Recently, Howard called his former Magic teams "full of people nobody wanted." When players like Jameer Nelson responded, he quickly said he meant his teams were "underdogs" even though he led them to the 2009 NBA Finals.

The chiseled big man, who should expect to hear jeers and boos from the Magic crowd Tuesday night, joined forces with Kobe Bryant and has helped the Lakers get back into the playoff mix. The Lakers are even with the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and will begin a three-game eastern tour against Orlando, Atlanta and Indiana.

Los Angeles has won three straight and eight of 10 games, including Sunday's 90-81 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Bryant had 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for L.A., which got 16 points and 21 boards from Howard.

"We're playing much better," said Bryant. "We read (Chicago's) defense today and we found a better rhythm."

Steve Nash had 16 points in the win.

Los Angeles is just 11-20 on the road and hopes to get more rebound support from Howard. Howard has grabbed at least 12 boards in each of his last 10 games.

Orlando ended a two-game slide with its 99-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday night. Nelson had 24 points and 10 assists, while Arron Afflalo added 17 points for the Magic, who won for just the second time in the past seven games.

Magic new center and former Sixer Nikola Vucevic posted 14 points and 17 rebounds in the win.

"We held them to 40 points in the second half," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn remarked. "That'll give you a chance to win every single night, whether shots are going in, whether the 3-ball is going in, whether you get to the free- throw line or not. Playing defense like that gives you a chance to win."

The Magic, who are 10-24 at home, will start a four-game road trip Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Orlando defeated the Lakers, 113-103, back on Dec, 2 this season in Hollywood and has won four of the past five meetings between the teams. The Lakers are winless in four straight trips to the Magic Kingdom.