It ended with the hushed tones of fans' feet shuffling up the stairs, heading to the exits early after seeing their team lose for the 23rd time in the last 28 games overall, including eight straight at Staples Center -- an all-time low for the franchise.
Howard did his damage early, collecting eight of his 20 points in the first quarter -- six of them coming off three rim-rattling dunks -- as well as six of his 13 rebounds as the Rockets built a 10-point lead.
What was left of the crowd late in the fourth quarter started a "Howard sucks!" chant, but the former three-time defensive player of the year thwarted its effectiveness as if he were swatting away a weak layup attempt, mockingly joining in the heckle as teammates Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley chuckled in delight.
If the boos didn't have any effect on Howard, they did even less to James Harden, who had what's becoming a typical line for him against the Lakers -- 29 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.
How it happened: The Rockets dominated from start to finish, leading by as many as 36 points at one point en route to their eighth straight win.
What it means: Howard's return to L.A. was overshadowed by the Lakers entering into the final 24 hours before Thursday's noon PT trade deadline and shipping Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors shortly before tip-off. Lakers fans are finished obsessing over last season's disappointment or fretting over this season's failures. It's all about the future now and what subsequent moves could be in store for Thursday.
Hits: Wesley Johnson scored 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, marking the sixth time in his last seven games that he has scored 15 points or more.
In his first game back from a right ankle sprain, Jodie Meeks scored 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
Kendall Marshall had 20 points and 16 assists.
Misses: The Lakers had 20 turnovers leading to 26 points for the Rockets.
L.A. allowed Houston to shoot 18-for-35 from 3 (51.4 percent).
Stat of the game: 40. That's how many points Houston scored in the third quarter to break the game wide open.
Up next: The Lakers host the Boston Celtics on Friday in their first game after the trade deadline. Time will tell what the team looks like then.