Dwight Howard played his best basketball of the season going into the All-Star break, and didn’t let up during the NBA’s showcase weekend. The forward looks to continue his dominant ways as the Orlando Magic resume play Tuesday night against the New York Knicks.
Howard, 21, is in the midst of the best stretch of an outstanding season. In his five games leading up to the break, he averaged 25.6 points and 11.2 rebounds while shooting 81.3 percent from the floor. His 84.6 field-goal percentage in the first four games of that stretch is the third-best mark in a four-game span in NBA history. The top two marks belong to Wilt Chamberlain.
“It’s a great honor,” said Howard, who wowed crowds in last weekend’s slam dunk contest and had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the All-Star game. “I’ll just keep playing my game.”
Despite Howard’s outstanding play, the Magic (27-26) are struggling. Orlando has lost four of its last six games and 12 of 17, dropping it to 14-22 since opening the season 13-4.
“We just got to keep our heads up. Nobody in the league is going to say, ‘Well, the Magic are playing bad, let’s just give them a win,’ ” Howard said last week. “We’ll get it back right.”
The Magic took a step in the right direction Wednesday, closing out the first half with a 103-91 win over Portland. Hedo Turkoglu led the Magic with 24 points, Darko Milicic added a career-high 21 and Howard had 20 points and 16 rebounds—his 36th double-double of the season.
On Tuesday, the Magic will be facing a Knicks team that has matched its win total of last season. New York (23-30) equaled last season’s club with a 107-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers last Tuesday.
“It feels good to have 23 wins right now, especially after what we went through last year,” center Eddy Curry said.
The Knicks, though, dropped their final game of the first half, 120-101 at Golden State the next day. New York allowed 62 first-half points and trailed by as many as 31.
The Knicks gave up more than 100 points for the ninth time in 13 games.
“The disappointing thing was that we didn’t have energy,” coach Isiah Thomas said. “We were a step slow in the legs. Our concentration wasn’t there. We looked like a tired team when they looked sharp and crisp.”
Reserve guard Nate Robinson led the Knicks with 23 points in 20 minutes. Steve Francis, traded to the Knicks from the Magic last February, matched his season high with nine assists in his third game back from a knee injury that sidelined him for 18 contests.
Orlando is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. New York is 10th, but trails the Magic by only four games.
Orlando has won four of the last six matchups with New York, and six of the previous nine at Madison Square Garden. The teams’ first meeting came Feb. 3 at Amway Arena, when the Knicks won 94-86 behind 27 points from Curry.
The season series concludes March 26 at MSG.