It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out Howard feels the same way about Orlando’s recent play against the Houston Rockets.
Howard and the Magic look to snap out of their funk against Yao Ming and the Rockets when the clubs continue their battles for playoff position Tuesday night in Houston.
Orlando (57-19) won for the 15th time in 18 games Saturday night, defeating Atlanta 88-82 on the road behind 21 points and a season high-tying 23 rebounds from Howard.
The All-Star center, however, wasn’t happy with the effort. The Magic shot 38.0 percent and barely held off a late Hawks rally to pull within a half-game of Boston for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“We didn’t play with good enough energy like we needed to, so we really had to grind it out,” said Howard, who added five assists, three steals and four blocked shots in his ninth 20-20 performance of the season.
“We weren’t focused at the beginning of the game. I talked to my guys and told them we’ve got to kick it up. We’re playing for something right now.”
Saturday’s game was particularly disappointing considering Orlando routed league-best Cleveland 116-87 the previous night.
“Our approach to the game was really different than it was last night,” Howard said. “For us to be a great team, we can’t do that. If we want to be a championship team, every night has to be the same energy and effort.”
To be considered one of the league’s best, the Magic also would benefit from improving their play against the Rockets (49-28). Orlando has dropped seven of nine in the series since drafting Howard with the first overall pick in 2004.
Howard, averaging a career-high 21.1 points and a league-best 14.0 rebounds this season, has been held to 12.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in those nine games against the Rockets. A career 56.9 percent shooter from the field, he’s connected on 45.9 percent against Houston.
Howard’s struggles against the Rockets are largely due to Yao’s interior presence. In addition to his ability to contain Howard, the 7-foot-6 All-Star has averaged 24.0 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent in eight games against the Magic since Howard came into the league.
Yao had 22 points and 13 boards while shooting 9-for-15 to lead Houston to a 100-95 win at Orlando on Nov. 22. Howard had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Houston pulled out a key 102-88 win over Portland in its last game Sunday, reclaiming fourth place from the Trail Blazers in the tightly packed West race. The Rockets scored 30 fourth-quarter points to close out the win after poor play in the final period sent them to losses in their previous two contests.
“It was great to see, finally,” forward Shane Battier said. “At home, we expect to do those things and it’s great to see us finally do it. We need to put that in our memory bank and pull it out the next game.”
Rockets coach Rick Adelman, however, still sees plenty of room for improvement after his club let a 12-point third-quarter lead get cut to four before pulling away late.
“We play as hard as any team in the league,” Adelman said. “We for the most part defend, but it’s our concentration during parts of the game that lacks, and you can’t afford to do that. I know we have young guys in a lot of spots, but that’s something that we have to continue to get better (at) in the last five games.”