L.A.'s Dwight Howard beats Orlando's Nikola Vucevic for a rebound. Howard finished with a season-best 39 points and 16 boards against his old team.


ORLANDO, Fla. - Dwight Howard endured the worst reception of his NBA career on Tuesday.

He then promptly turned in probably his best performance of this season.

Howard scored a season-high 39 points, had 16 rebounds and was sent to the free throw line 39 times by his former team as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic, 106-97.

The victory came in Howard's first return to Orlando since his drama-filled offseason trade to the Lakers (34-31), who stayed at No. 8 in the West playoff race. He endured a chorus of boos throughout, and tied his own NBA record for free throw attempts.

The majority of them came as the Magic tried to employ an intentional foul strategy. It backfired, though, as the All-Star center hit on 16 of 20 attempts in the second half. It silenced his detractors and more importantly, helped the Lakers secure their fourth straight victory and keep from slipping in their playoff chase.

His reception aside, Howard said he left the court still thankful for the support he got during his eight years in Orlando.

"I wasn't nervous tonight. I was looking forward to playing here," Howard said. "It was a hostile environment, but I think that was something that was good for me. For my progress as a player, I think I needed that tonight."

Homemade signs jeering Howard with sentiments that said everything from "Coward" to "Kobe's Kid" were sprinkled throughout the Amway Center stands. Boos rained down on the All-Star center almost every time he touched the basketball. They were followed by louder cheers when he missed a free throw.

The intensity was also ramped up at times, too.

Howard got tangled up in a verbal back-and-forth with the Magic bench at one point during the first half, and Kobe Bryant left briefly in the first quarter, bleeding from his right eye after a collision.

"I think professionally it was really big for him," Bryant said of Howard's night. "Coming into this environment, playing as well as he did, it's big for his confidence."

• Heat 98, Hawks 81: In Miami, Dwayne Wade scored 23 points and Miami extended its winning streak to 19 games, leading wire-to-wire in beating Atlanta.

LeBron James scored 15 and Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers added 14 apiece for the Heat, who matched the fifth-longest streak in NBA history. They will try for their 20th straight win on tonight at Philadelphia. Only three teams have won at least 20 in a row in the same season: the 1971-72 Lakers (33), the 2007-08 Rockets (22) and the 1970-71 Bucks (20).

• Mavericks 115, Bucks 108: In Milwaukee, Vince Carter hit three key threes in the fourth quarter and scored 23 points off the bench as Dallas won its fourth straight.

Dirk Nowitzki added 19 points for the Mavs, three games out of the eighth spot in the West. Monta Ellis scored 32 points for the Bucks.

• Nets 108, Hornets 98: In New York, Brook Lopez scored 26 points and had a big dunk over twin brother Robin, Deron Williams added 21 points and 13 assists, and Brooklyn beat New Orleans.

Brooklyn blew a 10-point lead in the third quarter before pulling off some timely baskets in the fourth to hang on. Eric Gordon led New Orleans with 24 points.

• Timberwolves 107, Spurs 83: In Minneapolis, Ricky Rubio had his first career triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, leading Minnesota over San Antonio. Rubio made 9 of 17 shots and grabbed his 10th board with 9:14 to play in the game.

Stephen Jackson had 14 points and Danny Green 10 for the Spurs, who left Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard at home to rest after they routed Oklahoma City on Monday.

• Bobcats 100, Celtics 74: In Charlotte, N.C., Gerald Henderson had a career-high 35 points, and Charlotte snapped a 10-game losing streak by beating Boston.

Henderson was 11 of 19 from the field and knocked down all 12 of his foul shots as the Bobcats (14-50) doubled last season's win total.

The Celtics, playing without Paul Pierce, looked like a team that has played nine of its last 11 games on the road. Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford each had 14 points.

• Cavaliers 95, Wizards 90: In Cleveland, Dion Waiters scored 20 points, Alonzo Gee added 17 and Cleveland held off a late run to beat Washington.

Cleveland played its first game since Kyrie Irving sprained his left shoulder Sunday against Toronto. The All-Star point guard, who watched the game from the bench with his left arm in a sling, could miss the next month - and maybe the rest of this season. The Cavaliers are 5-10 without him this season. John Wall led Washington with a season-high 27 points.