The Rockets play their first game in a week coming out of the All-Star break and they are in Los Angeles to play at Staples Center.
That part of the game is not new or significant for the Rockets and their All-Star center Dwight Howard. During the first week of the season, Howard and the Rockets played at Staples Center, although that was against the other Los Angeles team, the Clippers. In fact, Houston took their first loss of the season that night. But this game Wednesday night will be different.
This one is against his former team, the Lakers and in front of better than 10,000 Lakers' fans. Howard knows what to expect.
"I'm going to get a lot of boos," Howard said following practice on Tuesday. "But I can't be focused too much on that. I know I'm going to hear about it the whole game. All the noises, whatever you want to call it, cowards, whatever. I'm going to get it and there's not anything I can do about it except go out and play."
Starting with his first trip to Los Angeles and through many cities this season, Howard has surprisingly gotten used to what it might be like.
"Thank God this year I've been through it a lot in every city," he said. "There are Lakers fans everywhere, so each city, I get booed in. So I think I'm a little bit prepared for it."
Maybe a little bit, but probably not quite to this level. The Rockets are riding a season-best seven game winning streak and are third in the western conference with a 36-17 record.
If Lakers fans were mad that he left, they might be even angrier since the Lakers are experiencing one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The Lakers are on a seven-game losing streak and at 18-35, haven't been this bad in over 50 seasons. But mostly, the fans just were not happy with Howard as a Laker and then not happy he didn't stay a Laker and give the team more.
"Last year, I was hurt, a lot of things that they (the fans) were accustomed to me doing, I couldn't do them. And I think they were upset about that," Howard said referencing his very quick return, really too quick, from his back injury that kept him out of the 2012 postseason. "When you're not healthy, you're trying to play through injuries and stuff like that, it's not fun. There are things that you want to do, but you can't. I know last year, I can recall a lot of times when I was going up for dunks and I didn't have it and I'm like 'man this isn't fun.' I tried to do whatever I could to help the team win. I was really hurting myself, as far as my back."
He has made just one return to play against a former team in their building. That came last year when the Lakers visited the Orlando Magic on March 12. Howard scored a season-high 39 points and made a career-best 25 free throws in leading the Lakers to a 106-97 victory. Howard regards that game and Wednesday night's game very different from the fans perspective.
"Back in Orlando, I was there for my whole career, fans had gotten to know me on a personal level. I know that a lot of people were very hurt," Howard said. "With this situation, it was my first year (with the Lakers) and I left after that. People were mad because I left the Lakers and nobody's ever left the Lakers.
"At the end of the day, I did what I thought was best for myself. I wasn't afraid of any bright lights or any pressure. I just felt like Houston was the best place for me. Other people might see it differently, but that's what I chose. It's my destiny, it's my life. I felt I did the right thing. I did what was best for me and at the end of the day that's all that matters. I have no regrets. I'm happy here in Houston. We're playing great basketball right now and everything is falling into place."