It's safe to say the Nets wish they had the Orlando center on their side Thursday night.
Howard scored 16 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and blocked three shots and the Magic defeated the Nets 94-78 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,954.
"I like the way we're heading right now," Howard said after notching his 49th career 20-rebound game. "We're doing all the right things on defense -- we're making mistakes here and there, but we'll get it right -- and our effort has been great."
It was a dominant performance from Howard -- who neared his career high of 26 rebounds and helped hold the Nets to 44.8 percent from inside the paint -- in a game against the team he's been heavily linked to in trade rumors since the NBA lockout ended.
The two teams reportedly were close to a three-team deal that would've sent Howard to New Jersey a couple weeks ago, but Orlando backed out while holding out hope that Howard might stick around long term. And with trade talks stalled, New Jersey has maneuvered its payroll to make room for Howard, along with current star Deron Williams, next summer.
But Orlando players say the off-court drama wasn't on their minds.
"He did a great job approaching it just like any other game, and everyone on the team did the same thing," said Richardson, who scored 15 of his16 points in the first half. "We didn't really worry about what's going on with him."
Howard is intent on taking care of business.
"My focus is on what the Magic have to do to get better," he said.
Rookie forward Marshon Brooks finished with 17 points off the bench for New Jersey, helping make up for the struggles of Williams, who scored just 10 points on 2-of-12 shooting.
"It is definitely frustrating," said Williams, who shot 3 for 11 in the Nets' loss to Atlanta on Tuesday. "I am not playing well right now and the team is not playing too well right now. It is not time to panic. We are going to have a little bit of struggles just because everybody is learning."
The Magic jumped out to a 20-point lead early in the second quarter, but a 14-3 run just before halftime -- including eight points from Brooks -- cut the Magic's lead to six points heading into the break.
But Orlando's suffocating defense prevented the Nets, who scored only 34 points in the second half, from making a serious run. New Jersey cut Orlando's lead to seven points in the fourth quarter, but a balanced Magic scoring attack led by Hedo Turkoglu put the win away. Turkoglu finished with 11 points, seven assists and six boards.
"In the second half we came back with a good frame of mind and didn't go on a big run, but we were pretty consistent throughout the entire second half," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "If we'd been able to make free throws then we could have really opened it up."
Jameer Nelson left the game with a neck spasm early in the third quarter and didn't return. The team will evaluate him in the morning and determine if he can play Friday night at Charlotte. ... In an effort to get off to better starts, the Nets adjusted their starting lineup by inserting Sundiata Gaines and Mehmet Okur in place of Anthony Morrow and Johan Petro. It didn't help. The Magic jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. "We're still in the experimental stages," coach Avery Johnson said. ... Williams, who can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, declined to comment when asked if he would consider joining the Magic in free agency. ... Howard and Williams had dinner together on Thursday night. ... The Nets were without Brook Lopez, who is expected to miss several weeks with a broken foot. ... It was referee Dick Bavetta's 2,500th consecutive game.
NBA draft assets for all 30 teams
What upcoming draft picks does every NBA team owe and own?
LeBron, Lakers out to make statement against Nuggets
The bigger story wasn't how the Los Angeles Lakers manhandled the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Friday near Orlando. The displeasure of LeBron James over the MVP voting and the distance between his second-place vote...
Biggest trade, free-agency and draft decisions for every eliminated NBA team
ESPN Insider Bobby Marks breaks down the moves each team can and should make in the offseason.