Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers game preview

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard returns to Los Angeles to face the Lakers for the first time since spurning them to come to Houston.

I hated high school.

Sure, there were great moments. I had some fantastic teachers that helped shape who I am today. I've already spoken about one of them. But there were others too. And I have plenty of fond memories.

In general though, high school was not fun for me. Part of it was on me. I was awkward, weird, geeky, and not funny even though I tried so desperately to be. I wanted to be cool, but the "cool" kids at my school didn't seem cool to me. I hung out with other misfits, but we weren't really friends.

Some of it was the culture. By all accounts, my high school was a rich white school. Everyone lived close to school in veritable mansions. It was a culture shock to me, and it was hard not to be bitter every morning when I would get dropped off at school while others would be pulling into the parking lot in their new cars.

There were other non-monetary reasons I disliked it too. But that's not the point.

The point is this: my school has a distinguished alumnus award that it gives out every year. And one day, I'm going to win the damn thing. I'm going to strut in like I own the place and in my speech I'll relay the grievances I have.

I'll never know what Dwight Howard went through in his year in Los Angeles. It's nothing like high school. The newspaper didn't write about me every day. I wasn't bashed day-in and day-out by Skip Bayless and the other talking heads of the media and the Four Letter Network (though Skip railing on me as a teenager is hilarious to think about). There wasn't some legendary student that didn't think I was serious enough.

Frankly, I don't know if anyone has undergone the scrutiny that Dwight Howard experienced. At least after he made The Decision, LeBron still had support from the city of Miami and his teammates. Dwight didn't even have that. And the rest of around the country thought, "Dwight Howard wanted to play in LA, and now he's getting his just desserts."

Well tonight, Dwight Howard gets to do something that I can only dream of. He returns to the team that didn't believe in him, to the city that wanted no part of him until he threatened to leave, and to the arena where he spent hours asking for the ball and being ignored by a certain individual.

Tonight, Dwight Howard can achieve vindication.

Tip off is at 9:30pm CST on ESPN.

Matchups:

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Kendall Marshall

Marshall Madness! Fake Eminem is averaging 10/10/3 on 45% shooting overall and 47% shooting from three. He's been a revelation for a Lakers squad that has been having a disappointing season.

Advantage: Even if Bev plays, Lakers if he doesn't

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Steve Blake

I've been burned too many times before by the man that looks like Drama from "Rob and Big."

Steve Blake will have a triple-double, and he will not miss a shot in the fourth quarter. These are facts.

Advantage: Lakers

Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. Wesley Johnson

When I meet Thunder fans here in the Panhandle, I ask if they think they're spoiled. They usually say yes. Thunder fans have had it pretty good and are still in the honeymoon phase of having a team.

When I meet reasonable Lakers fans that really like the team and aren't just Kobe worshipers, I ask if they think the stereotypes are true. Do they believe that they get all the foul calls? Do they think the media favors them?

On the first count, they usually say no. They think that the stereotype works against them and that the referees don't call as many fouls on them because they know people will think they're biased.

On the latter count, they know that ESPN has about 80 ESPN LA employees that basically talk up LA, but they think that other than that the rest of the national analysts don't favor them in any way.

I'm not sure how this ended up in the Parsons vs. Johnson section, but whatever.

Advantage: Rockets

Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Shawne Williams

We talked about it on the podcast, but I'll state it again.

I think Terrence Jones needed the All-Star break in the worst way. In a sense, every player needs this break to recharge. However, I think Jones needed it more than anyone else on the team. His production tapered off towards the end of the streak, and his effort has been lacking on defense. He's burnt out, plain and simple. I hope he used the break to rest and comes back a stronger player. Remember, he's basically a rookie in terms of playing time.

Advantage: Rockets

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Chris Kaman

I root for all the Rockets. That's part of rooting for a team. I've never actively rooted against any Houston player, and that includes Rafer Alston and Steve Francis, two players I despised.

But I can't remember wanting to root harder for a player than I will tonight for Dwight Howard. And I hope he smiles the whole time.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Rockets: Jeremy Lin, Omri Casspi, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Lakers: Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, maybe others

Advantage: Rockets

Prediction: Rockets win 108-101.

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