Dwight Howard returned to Orlando on Tuesday night, facing endless jeering from the fanbase he jilted and a "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy that he became quite used to in the city. But Howard overcame all of it, scoring 39 points and pulling down 16 rebounds in the Lakers' 106-97 win over the Magic, providing some much-needed closure for the light-hearted big man.
Howard also went to the free throw line 39 times, tying a record that he set with the Magic just last season. 20 of those attempts came in the second half when Orlando was intentionally fouling him, but Howard made them pay by making 16 of those second-half attempts.
After the game, Howard admitted to the Orlando Pinstriped Post that despite the boos, he had a lot of fun returning to the city where he became a star. Howard also said that he's glad that it's over with, and now it's time for everybody to move on:
"This is fun," Howard said. "I came back home. This is the first time I have been back here since April. I was looking forward to being back here. Thank God it is over with. Like I said, I think this is something that I needed was to come back here and I think the city needed. It is closure. Now we can all move on."
Howard went on to say that he understands why people booed him, and will continue to understand even if it happens going forward. But no matter what they do, Orlando still holds a special place in Howard's heart:
"Whatever happens, if they boo me or whatever or have those signs up, my love for this city will never change." Howard said. "All the boos and stuff, I expected that. Like I said, nothing is ever going to stop the way I feel for this city."
Going further, Howard reiterated to CBS Sports' Ken Berger that although things didn't end right in Orlando, he still has genuinely positive feelings for the people and city:
"I genuinely care for these people and this city. Everything I did was because I cared about my team. It didn't end right. It didn't end the way everybody wanted it to. But that still doesn't change the fact that this city embraced me for eight years."
Howard certainly had some good-natured fun with the vocal Orlando crowd, taking all the verbal abuse in stride and jokingly dishing some of it right back. It was rather typical behavior for Howard, who has always been a guy desperate to be liked by everybody.
However, Howard's play on the court was anything but nice to his former team, dominating them like he used to dominate opponents while wearing the Magic jersey. These types of performances have become more and more common for Howard recently, as noted by Kobe Bryant in an interview with Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bryant said Howard has "come with an intensity, a ferocity" since the All-Star break, which has helped catapult the Lakers back into the playoff picture. And before Tuesday's game, Bryant made sure Howard brought that same type of attitude against the Magic, urging Howard to "kill them."
Kill them he did, and if Howard continues this type of play, the Lakers could just turn into that beast many predicted at the beginning of the season.