The Charlotte Bobcats have a very different memory of Howard fresh in their minds.
Howard put up a career-high 45 points in a win against the Bobcats earlier this week, a performance he’d love to replicate as the Magic visit Charlotte on Friday night looking to bounce back from their embarrassing defeat.
Orlando (39-14) went into the All-Star break with three losses in five games after point guard Jameer Nelson dislocated his shoulder, and it looked like it was headed for another defeat Tuesday against Charlotte (22-32).
The Magic trailed by as many as six in the fourth quarter, but Howard wouldn’t let them lose. The three-time All-Star scored 15 of his 45 after the third quarter and added 19 rebounds and eight blocks in a 112-107 overtime victory.
“Dwight was unbelievable, unbelievable,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I mean phenomenal. He just put us on his back. That’s leadership right there, that kind of play on the floor. It kept everyone else motivated.
“This is easily the best I’ve seen him play.”
The next night, though, Howard and the Magic never got going. They fell behind 35-20 after 12 minutes in New Orleans on the way to a 117-85 loss, the team’s most lopsided defeat since a 40-point drubbing at Chicago on April 15, 2005.
Howard finished with 12 points, just two over the final three quarters.
“It was a nightmare tonight,” Howard said. “We just have to regroup. It’s just one game.”
While one subpar game from Howard isn’t a concern for Orlando, the play of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis since Nelson’s injury is. Turkoglu is averaging 14.3 points on 35.6 percent shooting in the six games without Nelson, while Lewis is averaging 13.8 points and shooting 36.5 percent.
Orlando will need to succeed without Nelson, who underwent surgery on his shoulder Thursday and will miss the rest of the season.
The Magic made a move to shore up the point guard position at Thursday’s trade deadline, acquiring Rafer Alston from Houston for forward Brian Cook in a three-team deal. Memphis also received Orlando’s first-round draft pick and sent point guard Kyle Lowry to the Rockets.
The 6-foot-2 Alston is averaging 11.5 points and 5.4 assists this season and had 24 assists in the Rockets’ last two games.
The Bobcats had to come home to face Indiana a night after the disappointing loss in Orlando, and they didn’t have a problem bouncing back. Gerald Wallace was 5-of-17 from the field but made 15 of 17 free throws, part of a 25-point, 10-rebound and seven-assist effort that led Charlotte to a 103-94 win.
“He was great tonight,” coach Larry Brown said. “Thank God we had him. … After last night, this is a good win. I’m really happy with the fact we could bounce back after being so disappointed.”
Wallace had eight points in 38 minutes against the Magic Tuesday in his first game back from a broken rib and a partially collapsed lung he suffered on Jan. 27.
“I’m a ways away from being in the shape I was at the start of the season, but I’m getting there,” Wallace said after Wednesday’s game. “Right now, I just want to lay down somewhere and fall asleep. Coming off a back-to-back was kind of rough.”
If the Bobcats are to beat Orlando for just the second time in their last seven meetings, they’ll need Emeka Okafor to fare better against Howard than he did on Tuesday, when he fouled out for the third time this season.
Okafor, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft after Howard was taken first, is averaging 8.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in his past four meetings with Howard.
Orlando beat the Bobcats 90-85 in Charlotte on Nov. 16, when Howard finished with four points on 0-of-3 shooting before fouling out.