Nelson’s scoring binge has continued since tying his career high last week in Oakland, and he and Howard will try to lead the Magic to a fifth straight win on Monday when they host the high-scoring Warriors.
Howard, Orlando’s All-Star center, had played all 351 games in his first four-plus seasons in the NBA before sitting out two games last week with a sore left knee. But with Howard out, the Magic’s other scorers stepped up. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combined for 50 points in a 103-94 win at Utah on Dec. 13, then it was Nelson making the difference in a 109-98 win at Golden State two nights later.
The fifth-year point guard matched his career high with 32 points, helping lead the Magic (21-6) to their sixth win in seven games.
“I have no idea how many shots it was, I was just shooting,” Nelson said after going 13-of-25 from the field. “I tell people all the time if the shot is there I’m going to take it.
Nelson’s hot hand has continued the past two games with Howard back. He had 24 points and seven assists on Thursday in a 90-78 win over San Antonio, and was responsible for a second-half turnaround Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Down nine at the half, Nelson had 15 of Orlando’s 36 points in the third quarter, and the Magic went on to beat the Western Conference’s top team 106-103, fending off 41 points from Kobe Bryant.
“We believe we’re contenders,” said Nelson, who’s led the team in scoring in three straight games. “The naysayers say we’re not. This means a lot. I think it’s a statement game. It shows we’re serious and we’re contenders for the East.”
They’re certainly more dangerous with Howard, who’s averaged 16.0 points and 12.5 rebounds since returning against the Spurs. The NBA’s leading rebounder (14.0 per game) feels that missing two games will help him—and his teammates— in the long run.
“I think it was really a good thing that I missed those two games,” Howard said. “One, for me, giving rest for my body. And two, for my teammates that they can win without me, and do a lot of great things and trust each other.”
After allowing 41 to Bryant on Saturday, the Magic will have to deal with another high-scoring guard on Monday.
Jamal Crawford had 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting in the loss to Orlando on Monday, but his latest performance was his best in his 15 games with the Warriors (8-20) since getting traded from New York last month.
Crawford had 50 points Saturday night in Charlotte, the third time in his career he’s scored that many, and Golden State snapped its five-game losing streak with a 110-103 win.
That outburst came a night after he’d gone 3-of-15. While Corey Maggette (hamstring) and Stephen Jackson (hand) remain sidelined, the Warriors need every point they can get out of Crawford, who attempts 6.2 3-pointers per game, the sixth-most in the league.
“I feel like I can pretty much get any shot I want,” Crawford said. “I let people off the hook by settling for jump shots.”
Golden State has won its last two trips to Orlando.