Nets face Howard, Lakers in L.A.
(Sports Network) - Dwight Howard made no secret of his desire to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets, but fate instead landed him with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nets have been red-hot to start the season despite not landing the former Defensive Player of the Year and they'll look to deal Howard and his Lakers a loss on Tuesday night and claim their first victory at Los Angeles in nearly five years.
With Howard no longer wishing to play for an Orlando franchise that made him the top overall pick of the 2004 draft, the Magic pursued a number of trade options this past offseason. They were in serious discussions with the Nets, but the clubs could not pull off a deal and Brooklyn ended its courtship by re-signing Brook Lopez, one of the players rumored to be part of the package offered to the Magic.
Instead, the Magic dealt Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal that also included the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.
Now, Lopez will be one of the players tasked with slowing down Howard, who is averaging 20.0 points and 11.4 rebounds a game in 10 contests this season.
"It's always fun. He's a good challenge for me. It's always an exciting game," Lopez said of going up against Howard.
The 26-year-old Howard, who can be a free agent at season's end, wasn't interested in thinking about what could have been on Monday.
"It really doesn't matter at this point. There is no need to talk about the past," said Howard. "I'm happy being a Laker. I think this is the best situation for me and what I need to move forward and we're going to continue to get better."
The Nets have lost each of their last eight games to the Lakers, having not beaten them since Nov. 25, 2007 at Los Angeles. They have lost four straight on the road in this series since.
The Nets could buck that trend on Tuesday night as they bring a five-game winning streak into this contest. They won the opener of a three-game swing 99-90 at the Sacramento Kings on Sunday and haven't lost since a 30-point setback at the Miami Heat on Nov. 7.
With Lopez struggling, Andray Blatche came off the bench to score 22 points in Sunday's win, making his first 10 field goal attempts.
He wasn't the only player to produce off the bench as C.J. Watson had 13 points and MarShon Brooks added 14.
"The bench really helped us, especially in that first half," said Nets coach Avery Johnson. "You look at what C.J. (Watson) did, Blatche, and then MarShon comes on strong in the second half, made some real good plays."
Point guard Deron Williams -- figured to be one of the reasons for Howard's desire to play in Brooklyn -- had 14 points and 10 assists while Gerald Wallace logged 24 1/2 minutes in his first game since the Nets' opener. He had been out with a sprained left ankle.
At 6-2, the Nets are hoping to move five games over .500 for the first time since Dec. 30, 2005 and record their longest winning streak since a six-game run from March 12-21, 2006.
Standing in their way is an improved Lakers club that is 4-1 under interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who took over for a fired Mike Brown following a 1-4 start.
The Lakers have since hired Mike D'Antoni to take over as head coach, but he has been unable to be on the sidelines as he continues to recover from knee replacement surgery. He decided a few hours before Sunday's 119-108 victory over the Houston Rockets to hold off his debut with the team.
Still, Los Angeles has begun to run his system over the last two games, including a 114-102 win over Phoenix last Friday, and the head coach hopes to be on the bench tonight.
"It's a lot better. Every day it gets tenfold better. Hopefully because of that I'll be ready to go, but it's soon," said D'Antoni, who is expected to keep Bickerstaff on his staff.
In Sunday's win, Kobe Bryant tallied a triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, while Howard had 28 points and 13 rebounds.
"Every day there's a little more," Bickerstaff said of how much of D'Antoni's system is in place. "What's important, it's best to do a few things well and get it down because all of those things, they have options off of it. We put a few things in, they're in, let's work on the repetition, get it down, and then expand."
Pau Gasol reached a milestone with his 17-point effort, becoming the 10th foreign-born player in league history to reach 15,000 career points.