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.
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