He saw the fans in Section 22 of Prudential Center who clutched oversized pictures of his face. He watched kids waive signs asking him to join the franchise. And he caught a glimpse of rapperJay-Z, a part-owner of the Nets, sitting courtside.
"I just had fun with it," Howard said afterward. "It's a humbling experience. I wish more people could see how it feels to go into another arena and have big faces [of themselves] and posters. It's a humbling experience. It's a blessing."
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Howard sounded moved, but he and his teammates showed the Nets and their fans no mercy. The Orlando Magic dominated the Nets early and played them about even the rest of the way to win 108-91.
The superstar center scored 20 points, collected a game-high 17 rebounds and dished out four assists against the team that sits atop his list of preferred trade destinations.
Six other Magic players scored in double figures, including Glen Davis off the bench. Davis made his first seven shot attempts and finished with 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
Magic players did a good job blocking out the distraction of seeing their teammate, the league's best big man, wooed by many in the announced crowd of 15,364.
"It's something that we don't want to let bother us and get in our heads," said Magic power forward Ryan Anderson who scored 14 points despite a 5-of-15 shooting night.
"It was what we expected coming into this game. Yeah, it's going to happen at a lot of places because obviously we have the best guy in the NBA right now."
Asked after the game whether he had been swayed toward or away from the Nets in recent weeks, Howard retreated to his stock answer: that he is only focused on playing for the Magic and nothing else.
“The only thing I control is what I do on the court, and I’m just going to continue to do that,” he said.
Asked if he had learned from LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat, Howard responded, “You have to make a decision that’s best for you. I think the only thing that a lot of people were upset about was the fact that he did it on TV. But everybody’s entitled to make their own decisions. It’s their life. You have to do what you want to do with your life.”
Before Wednesday’s tipoff, the Nets' team website promoted the game by showing pictures of Williams and Howard on its homepage along with the caption "SEE SOME MAGIC. CATCH DWIGHT'S ONLY 2012 APPEARANCE IN NEW JERSEY."
As they have done at other games this season, the Nets offered the first 2,500 fans who entered the arena a free ticket voucher for a future home game. The team also put on a small pyrotechnic show during pregame introductions for the fourth time this season.
"It was funny," Magic small forward Quentin Richardson said. "When the things went off, a few of us were like, 'Was that it?' "
Some fans in Section 22, in a corner of the lower deck, held cutouts of Howard's face. They started cheering "We want Dwight!" with about 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
But the Magic already were ahead 34-17 after Davis sank a 15-foot jumper, and the chant didn't catch on.
Orlando (22-12) cut through the porous New Jersey defense with relative ease. The Magic finished with a season-high 32 assists.
As halftime was about to end, Howard stood near the Nets' bench and spoke with former Magic shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson. From his seat a couple rows behind the bench, 15-year-old Nets fan Jordan Kahn held a posterboard sign that read "BROOKLYN 2012 PLEASE" with Williams' face in place of the "E" and Howard's face in place of the "A."
New Jersey surged in the third quarter, riding three 3-pointers by Howard's buddy, All-Star point guard Deron Williams, to cut the Magic lead to 67-59.
But the Nets (10-25) couldn't get any closer.
Howard countered by making a driving reverse layup along the baseline, driving past Lopez, and a running hook to extend the lead to 71-59.
The "We want Dwight!" chants started up again with 5:13 left in regulation and New Jersey's Andre Emmett at the free-throw line. The game was out of New Jersey's reach by then.
Again, the chant didn't catch on.
Fans started to file out with several minutes to go.
But Jay-Z remained.
After the game ended, Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson and Howard went over to him and shook his email@example.com. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog. Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at OrlandoSentinel.com/joinus.