- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard called the love and appreciation New Jersey Nets fans and the organization showed him on Wednesday night "a humbling experience," but would not comment on his potential desire to join the Nets via trade or free agency.
"Right now, my only concern is winning games, playing as hard as I can every night and leading my team," Howard said after scoring 20 points, grabbing a game-high 17 rebounds, dishing out four assists, blocking two shots and getting two steals in 34 minutes during the Magic's 108-91 blowout victory over the Nets at Prudential Center.
"That's the only thing I can control. I put all the other thoughts aside and I'm focused on one thing -- the only thing I can control, which is what I do on the court. And that's the only answer I can give you."
Howard has been rumored to be headed to New Jersey since the offseason, a move that would pair him with point guard Deron Williams for the team's move to Brooklyn in 2012-13. Howard's agent gave the Magic a list of three teams he wants to be traded to: the Nets, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard and Williams can both opt out of their contracts and become free agents at the end of the season, and the Nets likely will need to acquire Howard so they don't lose Williams. The Nets could try to land Howard in a blockbuster trade before the March 15 trade deadline, or keep all of their assets -- including center Brook Lopez, rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks and two first-round picks in the 2012 NBA draft -- and try to sign him in free agency, assuming he opts out.
Given all that, the Nets' marketing team elected to give Howard the red carpet treatment on Wednesday night. They had a pyrotechnic show during pregame introductions, and had several placards of the Barclays Center stationed outside the Magic locker room.
Howard received a loud ovation when he was introduced as a member of the Magic's starting lineup, and by the end of the first quarter, with the Nets trailing by 17, the crowd of 15,364 began to chant "We Want Dwight" in unison, and did so on a few other occasions the rest of the game.
"I just have fun with it. It's a humbling experience," Howard said. "I wish more people can see how it feels to go into another arena and have big faces and posters, it's a humbling experience. It's a blessing. I've been to every arena and it feels good to have a great reception, not only here but everywhere I go. And like I said, it's humbling and I really appreciate it."
Howard said he didn't "focus" on any of the Barclays Center placards.
"The only thing I can control is what I do on the court, and I'm just gonna continue to what I do on the court," Howard reiterated.
"You have to make a decision that's best for you," said Howard, adding that he's not concerned about the recruiting process. "I think what a lot of people were upset about was the fact that he did it on TV. But I think everybody's entitled to make their own decision. You have to do what you want to do with your life and he did it. I felt bad for the way he did it and how it looked it on TV. But that's LeBron. Right now, he's playing basketball and becoming a better person."
Howard said he is a fan of Nets part owner Jay-Z "as a rapper," but said he did not have dinner with Williams this time, opting instead to go out with his teammates on Tuesday night.
Howard joked to Williams that he should "stop scoring."
Williams scored 12 straight third-quarter points for his team as the Nets rallied from a 20-point deficit and got within eight with 7:29 remaining in the period. But Howard countered with back-to-back buckets inside, sparking a 12-2 run as the Magic regained control.
"So weird. I was so jealous," joked Williams -- who finished with 23 points eight assists and six rebounds -- of Howard's pregame reception. "I might not not re-sign here because of that."
He was kidding, of course.
"Deron is a special player. He can score. He's tough to guard. He's quick. He knows how to turn it on when he has to. He's a good player," Howard said.
Howard would not comment when asked if he sees potential with this Nets roster. He did say he thought his team was playing "great basketball right now."
"We're third in the East. We just have to keep it up," Howard said. "We're in a good position. ... We just have to keep that momentum going into the All-Star break. ... That's the talk around the locker room, having a great second half of the season and making a push toward a championship."
So, are the Magic a title contender?
"No doubt," Howard replied.
Howard skipped out on the media following Wednesday morning's shootaround. His coach, Stan Van Gundy, also wanted no part of reporter's questions, answering "no" when asked if it felt any different playing in New Jersey, if he'd talk to his team before the game and if the whole situation felt "shady" given that Howard's agent had given the Magic a list of three teams he'd like to be traded to.
The Nets figure they're going to have to deal with questions surrounding Howard until the trade deadline -- if not through the offseason as well.
"We're gonna have to manage it," Nets coach Avery Johnson said Wednesday morning. "(Nets GM) Billy (King) and I laugh all the time. Sometime between March 1 and March 15 his phone's going to be blowing up and going crazy all night long. And I just told him I'm glad he has that job. Mine's gonna be off and on silent.
"We're gonna be glad when March 16 rolls around."
And if there isn't a resolution?
"We're glad that at least our name is in the news," Johnson said.
Asked if all of this is a distraction, Williams responded, "I don't think it's a distraction at all, nope. Not here. It hasn't been discussed."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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