After delivering clutch performances, Howard and McGrady square off as the Magic go for their 10th win in 11 games on Saturday night at home against the Rockets.
Howard continued his remarkable season with 24 points, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots against Indiana on Friday night. He swatted a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation, then altered what would have been a game-tying shot in the closing seconds of overtime as the Magic (9-3) prevailed 100-98.
“If you’re a player on the other team, you’ve got to take what’s there,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose club has won five straight and nine of 10 after an 0-2 start. “We’re not giving you jump shots, and they had to turn the corner.
“Dwight is tough and he wanted to win that thing. His legs were cramping up, but he wanted to get that done. He was a defensive force down the stretch.”
As impressive as Howard’s performance was, it’s become typical for the 22-year-old All-Star. He’s averaging 21.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and a league-high 4.1 blocks so far.
“It’s not a shock to us when he has games like that anymore,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “He’s done it so many times in his career so far, we expect numbers like that from him. He’s our guy and we expect him to do great things for us.”
McGrady was once the Magic’s go-to guy, leading the league in scoring twice during his four-season tenure from 2000-04. Now in his fifth season with Houston, the 6-foot-8 swingman has struggled in the first three weeks, averaging 16.2 points and shooting 40.8 percent from the field.
On Friday, McGrady was having another forgettable offensive performance before scoring 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. His surge helped the Rockets (8-5) outscore Washington 33-14 in the final period en route to a 103-91 victory.
“I was just cruising for three quarters, just executing and not being so aggressive and just getting my guys the ball,” said McGrady, who was 7-for-12 from the field overall. “When it’s time to turn it on in the fourth quarter, I hit some big shots.
“If you’re a shooter - you know I’m a rhythm shooter - once you hit a couple, you just get that feeling and you want the ball.”
Rockets coach Rick Adelman has been frustrated with his team’s inconsistency, as well as McGrady’s. But he liked what he saw late on Friday.
“Suddenly we started making every shot,” he said. “Tracy got the hot hand, and it carried over as he made some shots, which is what he had to do. It was a nice comeback.”
The Rockets hope to build on that win as they go for their seventh straight victory in Orlando. They’re undefeated on the road against the Magic since an 83-74 defeat April 8, 2002, including 3-0 with McGrady, who’s averaged 26.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists when visiting his former team.
Howard averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as the Magic split their series with the Rockets last season, while Houston center Yao Ming averaged 22.5 points and 13.5 boards.