The Orlando Magic are tough to beat when Dwight Howard(notes) has a big game, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year had an outstanding offensive performance to help his team end a three-game losing streak.
The Sacramento Kings know all too well about Howard’s ability to dominate.
Howard has tormented the Kings in recent years, doing so again in a road win last week, and he will look to help send the visiting Kings to an 11th loss in 12 games Friday night.
Orlando (27-15) didn’t rely as much on Howard for scoring last season as it reached the NBA finals, but it has had a tough time winning in 2009-10 when he does not produce offensively. Howard attempted seven field goals or fewer in nine of the Magic’s losses, while Orlando has gone 13-2 when he scores 21 points or more.
Howard averaged 27.8 points and shot 75.4 percent from the field in the past five games against the Kings. He overpowered Sacramento in the most recent meeting Jan. 12, piling up 30 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks in a 109-88 victory at Arco Arena - the Magic’s fourth straight win in the series.
Howard’s 20.4-point average against Sacramento is tied for his best against any opponent.
That victory started Orlando’s four-game road trip on a positive note, but it was the only one the Magic would come home with.
In danger of a second four-game losing streak this month, Howard shouldered the load Tuesday against Indiana with a season-high 32 points in a 109-98 win.
“I don’t care if we lose 10 games in a row,” Howard said. “I believe that the guys we have in this room, if we come together and sell out to the game plan every night and sell out to each other, there’s no one that should be able to beat us.”
Vince Carter(notes) has been going through a disastrous stretch, averaging 7.0 points on 21.5 percent shooting in his last seven games. The effect of his slump has been lessened somewhat by Matt Barnes(notes), who has averaged 13.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 58.3 percent shooting since replacing Mickael Pietrus(notes) in the starting lineup Dec. 30.
Barnes had 10 points, a career-high 16 boards and six assists against the Pacers.
“I think that he has really given us a big boost,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He runs up and down the court, he’s in tremendous shape. He’s putting in big minutes, he’s guarding 3s and 4s and some 2s.”
The Magic will have to deal with Kevin Martin(notes) on Friday, but Sacramento’s leading scorer has not been the same dominant player he was before a fractured left wrist kept him out from Nov. 7-Jan. 12. In four games since returning, he has averaged 18.5 points - 12.1 fewer than before the injury.
“We had a little bit of success in the first half,” said Evans, who averaged 23.8 points in his last eight games. “We’re definitely trying to get our chemistry back together, especially with Kevin back in the fold now.”
Along with the play of Evans and Martin, the Kings’ chances of beating the Magic may depend on the ability of Jason Thompson(notes) and Spencer Hawes(notes) to deal with Howard. Sacramento is second in the league with 46.6 points per game in the paint, but it was outscored 52-26 inside by the Magic last week.