Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard is on his fifth NBA franchise, so playing a former team is same old same old.
Maybe Friday night is a bit different, in that he’s playing against his hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks, who sent a clear message by trading him in June that they no longer had use for him.
“I wanna kill them. I’ll leave it right there,” Howard said at shootaround Friday morning, when asked if he’ll have something extra for the Hawks at Spectrum Center.
Friday is the second of four games in the Hornets-Hawks season series. The other two are in Atlanta Wednesday and March 15. The Hornets beat the Hawks 109-91 Oct. 20, with Howard totaling 20 points and 15 rebounds.
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The Hawks signed Howard as a free agent in the summer of 2016, to a reported three-year contract worth in excess of $70 million.
Howard previously played for the Orlando Magic (No. 1 overall pick in 2004), the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. Changing teams had been his decision prior to the Hawks-Hornets deal. This time, the Hawks traded Howard, an Atlanta native, for the bargain price of center Miles Plumlee and guard-forward Marco Belinelli. In fact, the Hawks sweetened the deal for the Hornets by swapping second-round picks with the Hornets, improving the Hornets’ position by about 10 spots.
The Hawks were clearly dumping the two remaining guaranteed seasons on Howard’s contract, each worth more than $23 million. The Hawks broke up their veteran roster and are tied with the Orlando Magic for the worst record in the NBA at 12-33.
The Hornets have underachieved this season, for such a veteran roster, with a 19-27 record, but Howard, at 32, has been productive, averaging 15.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.59 blocks.
One of the Hornets’ major flaws of late has been late-game situations. Over this season and last, they have lost 14 consecutive games decided by three points or less. Asked what can be done with that, Howard said don’t allow the game to get close in the fourth quarter.
“Hopefully, we can be in the fourth quarter and put the game away. That’s the plan. That’s better than saying, ‘Hey, let’s (have) the game get close and hope we win,’” Howard said. “Let’s blow teams out. Hopefully, it starts tonight.”
This is the last of five consecutive home games at Spectrum Center. The Hornets are 2-2 in this homestand. After Friday, the Hornets play 10 of the next 12 on the road, where they are 6-13 this season.