Nets pull out all stops for Howard, lose

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, left, blocks a

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, left, blocks a shot by New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez during the first quarter. (Feb. 22, 2012) (Credit: AP)

NEWARK -- Rare are the instances when pregame introductions command more attention than the actual game itself.

But the Nets don't have too many opportunities to woo prized free agents like Orlando's Dwight Howard, who was in town Wednesday. And, not so subtly, they dressed up their act.

There were fireworks during the lineup introductions, blue throwback "New York" uniforms, and a rather conspicuous setup of five posters depicting the progress of Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- the Nets' next home -- directly outside the visiting locker room.

Howard finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in the Magic's 108-91 win before 15,364 at the Prudential Center. It didn't take long for fans to break into "We want Dwight!" chants.

"It's a humbling experience," Howard said. "A blessing."

The NBA's trade deadline is March 15, and there is speculation that Howard -- an impending free agent -- could be on the move. He has indicated that the Nets would be among his favored landing spots.

The Nets, who are moving to Brooklyn next season, would surely love to add a centerpiece like the 6-11 Howard, the reigning defensive player of the year three years running.

"Right now my only concern is winning games," Howard said, "playing as hard as I can every night and leading my team. That's the only thing I can control. I've put all other thoughts aside."

Wednesday night's fireworks display during pregame introductions seemed an interesting coincidence. A Nets spokesman said similar pyrotechnics also were used during the season opener against Atlanta but could not give an official explanation for why they resurfaced Wednesday night.

Similarly, the placement of the posters had the feel of a recruiting pitch. Nets coach Avery Johnson sheepishly declined to explain their positioning. "You'd have to ask guys in marketing," he said. "Right now, it's not about recruiting anybody, it's about the guys that are in our locker room."

Howard declined to speak to the media before the game. He leads the NBA in rebounding (15.3 per game) to go with 20.3 points and 2.1 blocks per game.

Nets guard Deron Williams, who scored 23 points, is also an impending free agent and is Howard's close friend.

As for the blue ABA jerseys, it's the fourth time the Nets (10-25) have worn them this season. They are 0-4.

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