Howard scored 22 points and had 13 rebounds while fellow second-year player Jameer Nelson had 19 points and eight assists as the Magic won their seventh straight game, keeping slim playoff hopes alive with a 92-80 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
Tim Duncan scored 31 points—and surpassed 8,000 career rebounds with 13 boards—but it wasn’t enough for the Spurs, who are trying to hold off Dallas for the lead in the Southwest Division and best record in the Western Conference.
During the Magic’s winning streak, Orlando also has defeated Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Miami.
“We just beat the best teams in the league,” Nelson said. “If we get the opportunity to face someone in a series, it should be fun to watch.”
The Magic (35-44) now are 2 1/2 games behind both Chicago and Philadelphia in the race for the final playoff spot in the East.
Orlando has three games remaining in the regular season, including games against the Bulls and 76ers. Both of those teams have four games left.
The confidence gained from the streak carried the Magic against the Spurs, limited to 3-of-16 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“From the get-go, we knew we could beat these guys,” Howard said. “I came out and hit a couple of shots early in the game and then I thought to myself, ‘We are not losing this game.’ “
Orlando led 54-52 two minutes into the second half. But the Magic went on a 20-10 run over the next eight minutes to take a 12-point lead.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was upset with wasting Duncan’s performance.
“Orlando did a great job,” Popovich said. “They showed why they are the hottest team in the league.
“I thought it was a bad performance on our part. It’s a shame (Duncan) was feeling good and sprightly and we wasted it because the whole team wasn’t reacting.”
The Spurs remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mavs, who lost 117-104 at Phoenix.
Orlando, which has won 11 of 12, led 78-69 entering the fourth quarter. The closest the Spurs could get in the final quarter was eight points when Brent Barry hit a 3-pointer with 2:54 to play.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili dressed for the game but did not play. Ginobili missed his third straight game with left calf and shin contusions.
He was replaced in the lineup by Barry, who was 2-for-11 from the floor for five points.
The Spurs are playing for home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but they aren’t playing well at home right now. San Antonio has lost 3-of-5 at home.
San Antonio had a 24-17 lead with 2:49 left in the first quarter. But Orlando went on a 16-9 run during the next 5:03 to tie the game.
It was tied when Finley hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining in the first half, but the Magic sandwiched a pair of 3-point plays around Duncan’s 16-foot bank shot to take a four-point into the locker room.
Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left and Howard scored on a dunk and went to the free-throw line to make a shot after being fouled by Nazr Mohammed with 14 seconds before halftime.
Parker, still ailing from a virus that started bothering him Tuesday, cooled off considerably in the second half. He went 1-for-4 in the third quarter and missed the only shot he took in the fourth.
Duncan is second on the Spurs’ career rebounding list behind David Robinson with 10,497. Duncan also passed John Havelicek for 53 on the NBA’s all-time list. … Duncan’s 22 points in the first half is his season-best. His previous best in one half was 21 during a victory over New Jersey on Jan. 10. … Magic guard Carlos Arroyo missed his third straight game with a strained left hamstring.