Dwight Howard: 'I'm in a better place'

LOS ANGELES -- Dwight Howard isn't regretting leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. He's happy in Houston and confident he made the right decision last July to spurn the Lakers' five-year, $118 million offer for the Rockets' four-year, $87.6 million deal.

But on the eve of his first game against his former team at Staples Center, he did admit there were things that could've changed the outcome.

"There's a couple things that could've been done, but that's over with now," Howard said with a coy smile Tuesday afternoon. "I'm in a better place, our team is doing great and the Lakers, they'll come back. But hopefully this is the Rockets' time."

Howard didn't elaborate on what those things were, but ESPN previously reported he made his preference for former coach Phil Jackson well known to management, and that he was concerned about the real timetable for him to ascend to face-of-the-franchise status with Kobe Bryant determined to play at least another three seasons.

Whatever the case, both sides have moved on -- in largely different directions.

Howard's Rockets won seven games in a row heading into the All-Star break. The Lakers (18-35) are lottery bound after losing seven straight home games. Their .340 winning percentage is the franchise's worst since 1959-60.

"I think I still might follow them on Twitter, that's about it," Howard said, when asked whether he'd been following the Lakers season. "I don't pay attention to what's on TV and what's being said. I just focus on my team."

His new team is on a roll, sitting in a tie for third place in the Western Conference at 36-17 after a torrid February. Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds this season, nearly identical numbers to what he put up last season in L.A. (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds).

But Howard has noticeably improved each month as he continues to recover from back surgery in April 2012. Howard averaged 25.8 points on 65.7 percent shooting from the field in February after scoring 18.8 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting in January.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale attributes that to health and chemistry with his new teammates.

"Dwight's one of those guys, I think he plays better when he's having a good time and is comfortable," McHale said. "There's nothing wrong with that. He's a guy who plays better when he has a joyfulness about him.

"When I watched him last year, he just looked out of sorts the whole year. He didn't look like the guy that I'd seen in Orlando. Now what caused that? I would say 70 percent of that was physical with the back and probably 30 percent of that was environmental. I guess it was a funky environment around here."

The environment he walks into for Wednesday night's game will likely be pretty funky, too. Howard said he was expecting to hear a lot of boos from Lakers fans.

"I think there will be a lot of boos," Howard said. "I can't really focus too much on that. I know I'm going to hear it the whole game. All the noises, whatever you want to call it, 'Coward.' There's not anything I can do about it except to go out and play.

"This year I've been through it a lot in every city because there are Laker fans everywhere. Every city I get booed in. I think I'm a little bit prepared for it."

Still, there is a part of him that feels badly things didn't work out in Los Angeles.

"When you're not healthy and you're trying to play through injuries and stuff like that, it's not fun," Howard said. "You're hurt and there's things you want to do but you can't. I know last year, I can recall a lot of times I'd go up for dunks and I didn't have it. And I'm like man, this isn't fun.

"I tried to do whatever I could to help the team win, but I was really hurting myself as far as my back and stuff like that."

This is the third meeting between the Lakers and Rockets this season. The previous two were in Houston. Howard has also been back to Los Angeles when he Rockets played the Clippers in November. Still, he knows this will be different.

"Back in Orlando, I was there for my whole career and fans had gotten to know me on a personal level. I know that a lot of people were very hurt," Howard said. "With this situation, it being my first year, and I left after that. People were mad that I left the Lakers and nobody's ever left the Lakers, so they were upset about that.

"But at the end of the day, I did what I felt was best for myself. I wasn't afraid of any bright lights or pressure. I just felt like Houston was the best place for me. Other people might see it differently, but that's what I chose. It's my destiny, it's my life and I feel like I did the right thing."