Howard and the Magic look to do their part to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when they host the conference-worst Boston Celtics on Sunday.
To secure a playoff bid Sunday, Orlando (37-42) must win this contest and also hope ninth-place Indiana loses to seventh-place New Jersey earlier in the day.
Regardless of whether they clinch on Sunday, though, the Magic appear to be in good shape to end their three-year playoff drought, leading the Pacers by two games with three games remaining on each team’s regular-season schedule.
“We will make the playoffs,” Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson said.
The Magic have won three of their last four games and eight of 14 to take control in the race for the last spot. Howard scored a career-high 35 points and added 11 rebounds on Saturday to lead Orlando past Philadelphia 104-87. Howard matched a career high with 14 field goals made, and missed only once from the field as the Magic surpassed their win total from each of the previous two seasons.
Howard has recorded a double-double in 14 of his last 17 games - including five straight - and is averaging 19.8 points and 13.8 rebounds per game while shooting 65.7 percent from the field this month. He looks to continue that hot streak against the struggling Celtics.
“(Boston’s) another big game,” Howard said. “We need to come out with the same intensity as today.”
The Celtics (23-56) have dropped six straight games to solidify their last-place standing in the East.
They clinched the second-worst record in the league with their 104-102 loss to Milwaukee on Friday. Gerald Green scored 21 points and rookie Leon Powe added 18 to help the Celtics climb back from a 13-point halftime deficit. Trailing by two points, Boston stole the ball with 12 seconds remaining, but did not get a shot off.
Ryan Gomes, the Celtics’ leading scorer among players active for Friday’s game, did not play in the fourth quarter after scoring 13 points in the first three periods.
“I probably (would have played), but since we were in the hunt for a high draft pick, of course things are different,” Gomes said. “I understand that. Hopefully things get better. Now that we clinched at least having the second-most balls in the lottery, the last three games we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if we can go out and finish some games.”
The Celtics have lost five of seven meetings with the Magic over the past two seasons, including two of three in 2006-07. Boston snapped a three-game skid against Orlando with a 105-96 double-overtime win March 28, when Howard managed only 12 points.
Boston has lost five straight road games to fall to 11-28 away from home.