Dwight downplays facing Lakers

HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard downplayed any talk about his former team as the Houston Rockets prepared to play the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since Howard left L.A. for Houston in July.

"Our team is on a mission so we can't concern ourselves with one game," Howard said after Thursday's shootaround. "We're trying to accomplish something big and can't be too high or too low in any game. We got to stay even keeled and try to go out there and win."

When a reporter followed up by asking Howard what it would be like to face his former teammates, he repeated the same refrain.

"It's another game," Howard said. "Just go out there and play, have fun and get a win."

The All-Star center dodged question after question about his one-year stint in Los Angeles last season. When asked if an NBA.com story quoting Antawn Jamison as saying the relationship between Howard and Kobe Bryant was "bad" and "our two superstars didn't get along" was accurate, Howard said, "There's no need to talk about it." When asked about Pau Gasol telling reporters this week that Howard's expectations on offense weren't met last season, Howard said, "That doesn't matter. We play for two separate teams now."

As the questions continued to come from various angles, Howard continued to stonewall.

"I don't think there's any need for me to continue to talk about the Lakers and what happened," Howard said. "I've done enough talking about it. If it's about Houston and what we're trying to accomplish, then great. But I don't think every discussion needs to be about the Lakers."

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said that trades and free agency cause matchups like Howard versus L.A. to happen all the time, citing Steve Nash playing the Phoenix Suns last season and the times when Kevin Garnett will go up against the Boston Celtics this season.

"I don't think it's that much more [meaningful] although the eyes are on it a little bit, so that makes it a little bit more exciting, but it is just one game of 82," D'Antoni said.

Other than what city he calls home, the biggest difference for Howard this season compared to his difficult year with the Lakers is the center's health.

"He looks really good," D'Antoni said. "He's playing with a lot of energy and you can see he's healthy. He's running, he's doing what made him a great player."

Now D'Antoni has the unenviable task of preparing for Howard, who is averaging 17.4 points, 14.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks during the Rockets' 4-1 start, as an opponent. The Lakers will start Chris Kaman instead of Shawne Williams to deal with the Rockets' big man-laden lineup of Howard and Omer Asik, and D'Antoni is also considering employing a strategy that was used against him last season: Hack-a-Howard.

"That's always a possibility," D'Antoni said of purposely sending Howard, who is shooting 56.3 percent on free throws this season, to the line. "I think that's always a weapon. I didn't say Hack-a-Dwight, but you play where, 'OK, you fouled him.' That's not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing is him dunking and them shooting 3s."

Nash said that the Lakers (2-3) were more concerned with getting their first road win of the season after starting 0-2 away from Staples Center and added that the more emotional game against Howard will be when he returns to L.A. to play the Lakers on Feb. 19.

"Of course our fans are going to love the chance to get on him, and that's part of professional sports," Nash said. "For L.A. natives, they're always going to get behind their team.

"But for a lot of the guys on our team, they're just trying to find a role and an identity, so it's a little different inside our locker room than it will be for a lot of our fans."