The New Jersey Nets plan to ease Brook Lopez back into action from a broken right foot, but there's nothing easy about Lopez's next assignment considering how he's been dominated by Dwight Howard.
Howard has helped the Orlando Magic win eight straight over the Nets heading into Wednesday night's matchup at the Prudential Center.
Lopez made his season debut with nine points and two rebounds in 22 minutes Sunday as the Nets suffered their sixth straight home loss, 92-85 to Milwaukee.
"It felt good,'' Lopez said. "My arch was a little sore, but I think that was just the orthotic. It was just exciting to be out there playing with the guys.''
Coach Avery Johnson opted to rest Lopez during a 100-92 win at New York on Monday, indicating he will be back in the lineup Wednesday.
Waiting for him will be Howard, who had 16 points and 24 boards to lead Orlando (21-12) to a 94-78 win at New Jersey on Dec. 29.
"Of course it changes things because now they have someone to drop it into in the low post," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Lopez's return. "So they'll be considerably better and have more options on that end of the floor plus obviously they're a lot bigger so it helps them a lot."
The 7-foot, 265-pound Lopez, however, hasn't been much of a factor against the 6-11, 265-pound Howard in the past. He's averaged 13.7 points, 38.0 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds over the last seven head-to-head meetings - all below his career averages - as Orlando won each one.
Howard has averaged 20.4 points and 64.1 percent from the field to go along with 14.7 rebounds in those seven games. The Magic center has also been more imposing defensively with 25 blocks compared to seven for Lopez in that span.
While the Magic seem to have an edge up front, the Nets' advantage lies in the backcourt with Deron Williams, who scored a season-high 38 points Monday to emphatically win his point guard matchup with Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin.
"We definitely had this game circled," Williams said. "We'd be lying if we say we didn't."
Williams has faced Orlando once with New Jersey (10-24), scoring 10 points and shooting 2 of 12 in December, but the Magic are wary of the All-Star guard.
"He's one of the best in the league," Van Gundy said. "It's never easy when you play him."
Orlando won for the fifth time in six games Monday, 93-90 at Milwaukee. Howard recorded his East-leading 26th double-double with 28 points and 16 boards and Ryan Anderson hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left.
"Both teams played hard, but we were just able to close it out," Howard said. "We stayed with it and stayed together and got a good win.''
Anderson, a first-round pick by the Nets in 2008, has made 15 of his last 26 3s and is shooting a team-best 44.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Magic guard Jason Richardson has missed the last two games with a chest virus, but could return Wednesday.
The Nets have not dropped seven in a row at home since a 14-game slide Jan. 29-March 22, 2010.