For Orlando Magic fans, games against the New Jersey Nets in recent years probably felt like a nuisance, like minor speed bumps on the way to the playoffs.

Not anymore.

Not now that Dwight Howard has the Nets on his short list of preferred trade destinations.

Not now that Deron Williams plays for the Nets.

Thursday night, the Magic will host the Nets at Amway Center, and the matchup is one of the most intriguing games on both teams’ schedules.

But “intriguing” is not synonymous with “important.”

Whether the game is truly important depends on whether the result could sway Howard’s thinking about his future or Williams’ thinking about his future.

The result probably will not make a difference on either guy’s plans.

We know that Howard would welcome a trade to the Nets. That is why the Nets are on Howard’s list, and that is why Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, pushed so hard for the Nets and Magic to complete a trade on Dec. 14.

What we don’t know is whether Howard’s long-term aspirations could change.

Magic officials say publicly that they think they can persuade Howard into wanting to stay. But it is unclear whether those Magic officials actually believe it or are just attempting show optimism so other teams improve their trade offers.

For his part, Howard has said his trade request still stands.

Howard and Williams would welcome the opportunity to play together. They realize that in today’s NBA, the easiest path to perennial title contention is for superstars to team up.

Trading Howard to the Nets is less palatable for Orlando than ever now that Brook Lopez is recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Magic officials already preferred Bynum to Lopez; now, Lopez is a potential injury risk.

Meanwhile, one of the questions I receive most often from Magic fans is this: Is there any way the Magic could trade for Williams?

The short answer: It’s very, very, very unlikely.

The Nets are at least as desperate to hold onto Williams as the Magic are to hold onto Howard. The Nets are about to relocate to Brooklyn, and they need to pair Williams with a marketable, charismatic superstar, especially now that the New York Knicks are relevant again.

The only way the Nets would trade Williams is if Williams tells them there is no way he will return.

And for Williams to wind up with the Magic, he would have to make publicly clear that he would sign long-term only with Orlando.

And for that to happen, Howard would have to commit to staying in Central Florida.

The Dallas Mavericks, another team on Howard’s wish list, complicate matters.

The Mavericks have managed their finances well. Mark Cuban’s franchise will have potentially enough money under the cap for 2012-13 to sign Williams and Howard. Also, Williams grew up in a Dallas suburb.

So the Magic-Nets game will be fascinating to watch.

After Williams was traded from Utah to New Jersey last February, the Nets faced the Magic just once, and Williams did not play in that game because of an injury.

On Thursday, both Williams and Howard will be on the floor.

And it will be a must-see game, whether it’s important or not.

Follow Josh Robbins on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins and e-mail him at Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at