No one needed a reminder, but Dwight Howard on Thursday night demonstrated why the Orlando Magic are desperate to keep him and why the New Jersey Nets are equally anxious to acquire him.
He gathered rebound after rebound. He swatted away shots, sending one of them whizzing into the third row. He scored at will when he wasn't at the foul line.
And with their 94-78 win over New Jersey, the Magic showed they are a far better team right now with Howard than the Nets are with point guard Deron Williams and without injured center Brook Lopez.
"We're getting better," said Howard, who finished with 16 points, 24 rebounds and three blocks.
"We just have to continue to grow, continue to work on all the things that are going to make a difference late in the season. But I like the way we're heading right now."
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Howard still will be with the team beyond the March 15 trade deadline. Indeed, it seems highly unlikely that what transpired Thursday night inside Amway Center changed Howard's long-term plans.
Williams, who began the night at shooting guard following a Nets lineup shuffle, had a horrid game, scoring just 10 points on 2-of-12 shooting. He had seven assists, but he also turned the ball over six times. As the final minute arrived, he sat on the Nets bench, a towel over his face.
"It's definitely frustrating," Williams said. "I'm not playing well right now. The team is not playing too well right now. It's not time to panic." Howard's dominant performance could have been even more impressive, but he missed seven of his nine foul shots to drop his free-throw percentage so far this season to .364.
Other than that, the win included just one other negative for Orlando.
Point guard Jameer Nelson sustained a stinger early in the third quarter as he ran into a screen and suffered from neck spasms the rest of the night.
He left the game and did not return.
"The guys were out there playing well," Nelson said. "Nobody needs to be a hero."
Nelson will see how he feels Friday before he and the team's medical staff determine whether he will play Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats in Charlotte.
Chris Duhon, the backup point guard, finished with nine points, four assists and one turnover.
Team officials hope that Duhon continues his improved play after he struggled terribly last season, his first with Orlando.
"I really like the way he's playing, and obviously, he was a huge part of the victory tonight," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "And it's great to see, because this is the guy that we signed."
The Magic took a 20-point lead with 6:17 remaining in the second quarter when Duhon sank a wide-open 3-pointer.
But the Nets finished the quarter on a 14-3 run after Howard was whistled for his third personal foul with 3:04 left before halftime. Howard didn't pick up another foul the rest of the night, and Orlando (2-1) pulled away from New Jersey (1-2) in the third quarter.
Perhaps it wasn't the trouncing Magic fans craved given Howard's flirtation with New Jersey.
Still, it was a win.
Howard's agent has received permission from the Magic to speak with three teams -- the Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks -- and attempt to facilitate a trade to one of those franchises.
Earlier this month, the Magic turned down a three-team deal that would have sent Howard to New Jersey and brought Lopez and Portland Trail Blazers swingman Gerald Wallace, among others, to Orlando.
The Magic reasoned that a similar deal will be available before the March 15 trade deadline. Plus, the Magic figured that Howard always could have a change of heart and decide to remain with the Magic.
A potential Nets-Magic deal in the future hit a major roadblock after Lopez suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and underwent surgery to correct the problem. The Magic already preferred Andrew Bynum to Lopez anyway, and Lopez' foot problem is now a significant red flag to Magic officials.
The Nets simply have no other assets of note aside from Williams himself, and Williams appears to want to lure another superstar to join him on the Nets or sign a free-agent deal with the Mavericks over the summer.
The announced sellout crowd of 18,954 hardly booed anyone on the Nets -- except for Kris Humphries, who has become famous, or infamous, after his failed marriage to Kim Kardashian.
A small group Magic fans in Section 116 started chanting at the Nets in the game's closing minutes.
"You can't have him!" they said. "You can't have him!"
A few seconds later, Howard went to the Magic bench, with the game all but over.
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