Dwight Howard knows what's coming. Ear plugs would be a good start.
His dress rehearsal didn't go well a few months ago at Staples Center when he was booed incessantly and his team lost badly to the Clippers. Now he faces his past in his first road game against the Lakers since spurning them last July for a four-year, $88-million deal with the Houston Rockets.
It's easy to predict the most popular three-letter word Wednesday at Staples Center: b-o-o.
"I'm going to get a lot of boos," Howard said Tuesday after the Rockets practiced at UCLA. "I know I'm going to hear it the whole game — 'Coward,' whatever.
"Thank God, this year I've been through it a lot in every city. There's Lakers fans everywhere. So I think I'm a little bit prepared for it."
It might irk some fans to hear it, but Howard said he hadn't kept track of the Lakers after taking $30 million less with Houston.
"I think I still might follow them on Twitter and that's about it," he said.
Howard, 28, was wooed unsuccessfully last summer by Dallas, Golden State, Atlanta and the Lakers, whose very public "STAY" billboard campaign couldn't keep him.
He feels he has made the right decision after a little more than seven months with Houston.
"No doubt," he said. "I did what was best for me and at the end of the day, that's the only thing that matters. I have no regrets.
"I wasn't afraid of any bright lights or any pressure. I just felt like Houston was the best place for me."
The Rockets finished eighth in the Western Conference last season but vaulted to third last week after a seven-game winning streak that took their record to 36-17.
Meanwhile, the Lakers (18-35) have lost a team-record seven consecutive home games.
"Dwight's one of those guys that I think he plays better when he's having a good time and comfortable," Houston Coach Kevin McHale said. "He's been tremendous for us and getting better all the time.
"When I watched him last year, he just looked out of sorts the whole year. What caused that? I would tell you that 70% of that was physical with his back and probably a third of that was environmental. I guess it was a funky environment."
Howard and Kobe Bryant never developed much of anything together in their one season wearing the same uniform.
It wasn't like the animosity Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal felt for each other when they were somehow winning championships, but it was an awkward season that ended with the Lakers getting swept by San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.
Howard is no longer slowed by shoulder and back pain and has a better burst these days. His stats reflect it.
He's averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds while shooting 58.1%, increases from 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 57.8% last season.
"A lot of things that [fans] were accustomed to me doing, I couldn't do them," he said. "I think people were upset about that."