NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Dwight Howard aced his audition for the New Jersey Nets.
The Orlando center had 20 points and 17 rebounds, threw in a couple of blocks and dunks and had Nets’ fans chanting his name throughout the game in leading the Magic to a 108-91 victory on Wednesday night in what was certainly a showcase for next month’s trading-day deadline.
Here’s the situation heading into the March 15 deadline. Howard has asked to be traded and the Magic stand to lose the six-time All Star and the leading vote getter in this year’s exhibition game unless he signs an extension before becoming a free agent in July.
“Right now my only concern is winning games, playing as hard as I can every night,” said Howard, who rocked the rim several times with monster dunks in making 9 of 13 from the field.
“That’s the only thing I can control. I put all the other thoughts aside. The only thing I can control is what I do on the court.”
Many in the crowd of 15,364 did their best to recruit the seven-year veteran for the Brooklyn-bound Nets.
He got the loudest cheers in the pre-game introductions and many in the crowd had giants placards with his face on them, including one next to a placard that had the face of Nets All-Star guard Deron Williams.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Howard said. “I wish more people could see how it feels to go into another arena and have the big faces, the posters. It’s a blessing and a whole new experience. It feels good to have a great reception, not only here, but everywhere I go.”
Howard didn’t disappoint the fans in leading the Magic to their ninth straight win over the Nets, who proudly put posters of their new arena in the hall leading to the Magic locker room.
Nets center Brook Lopez, who has been rumored to be part of the package the Nets have dangled in front of Orlando, smiled when asked how the fans reacted.
“It was interesting,” said Lopez, who had 15 points in his second game back after surgery for a broken right foot. “It was definitely exciting. It brought great atmosphere to the game.”
Williams joked he was jealous about all the cheering for Howard.
“I might not re-sign here because of that,” said Williams, who had 23 points, six rebounds and eight assists to lead New Jersey, which headed into the All-Star break having lost 8 of 11.
Glen Davis, who hit his first seven shots, added 16 points for Orlando, which won for the eighth time in 11 games.
Rookie MarShon Brooks had a career-high 24 points for New Jersey, which basically lost the game in the opening 12 minutes.
Orlando shot 62.5 percent in the opening quarter and jumped to a 34-17 lead. The final 4:16 were the key with the Magic closing the quarter with a 13-2 spurt that came mostly with Howard sitting on the bench.
Davis hit all four of his shots and Jameer Nelson, who also had eight points in the period, hit a 3-pointer, one of 13 on the night by Orlando.
Nets’ fans started chanting: “We want Dwight” in the final minute and it continued late in the game.
Orlando increased the lead to 22 points in the second quarter, and the only time it was challenged was in the third quarter when Williams put on a show for Howard, his good buddy, hitting three straight 3-pointers and scoring 12 straight points to get the Nets within 67-57.
After New Jersey blew a couple of chances to get the lead under double figures, Orlando closed the quarter with a 16-9 spurt to take an 87-70 lead into the final quarter.
JJ Redick started and ended the run with 3-pointers and Chris Duhon, who came off the bench to slow down Williams on the defensive end, sandwiched two 3-pointers and a jumper in scoring eight straight points for the Magic.
Howard only played five minutes in the fourth quarter and then took in the adulation.
“Obviously people are excited over potential stuff,” said Magic forward Ryan Anderson, who added 14 points. “It’s something that we don’t let bother us or get in our heads. It’s what we expected. It’s going to happen at a lot of places because obviously we have the best guy in the NBA right now.”
Redick had 12 and Hedo Turkoglu and Nelson had 10 apiece for Orlando.
NOTES: Nets played without power forward Kris Humphries, who was sidelined with a strained left calf. … Nets F Shawne Williams had surgery earlier in the day to repair an old fracture and remove two small bone fragments in his left foot. He will miss the rest of the season. …With all the injuries, this was the Nets’ 17th starting lineup. …Orlando is 15-1 when it scores more than 100 points. … Williams’ streak of 25-point games ended at six, tied for second best in Nets history.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)