A game after getting called out by his coach for focusing too much on offense, Howard had 24 rebounds and 23 points. Lewis added 25 points and the Orlando Magic beat the Denver Nuggets 109-98 Wednesday night.
“(Howard) was real serious about coming out and trying to get this win before the All-Star break, and just trying to knock that chip off his shoulder,” Lewis said. “That’s what professional basketball players do.”
Howard also retook the NBA rebounding lead from the Nuggets’ Marcus Camby, a game after losing it. The All-Star center dropped to second-place when he failed to get double-digit rebounds in two of the past four games. But on Wednesday he had a double-double by halftime, while Camby finished with six points and eight rebounds.
It was Howard’s sixth 20-point, 20-rebound game of the season.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was thrilled with the effort, though he said the conflict between he and Howard “may’ve been a little overblown.”
“We’ve seen games like this out of him before,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like Stan Van Gundy’s a motivational genius and got Dwight to play. He’s played like this several times in his career—he just needed to get his focus back. He wanted to win today; he was fabulous.”
Howard, just a few days from his first All-Star start, didn’t mind the challenge.
“Knowing Stan, the main thing is that he’s not going to let me be mediocre,” Howard said. “He’s going to continue to push me every day in practice, every game, to get better. I don’t fault Stan for what he did; he just wants to see the best out of me.”
Neither team could create much separation until the third quarter. Denver took a 63-58 lead, tying its biggest of the game, on Camby’s jumper with six minutes left in the period.
But Lewis led the Magic on an 18-6 run to close the third, and the Magic never trailed again. The forward had 14 in the quarter—including two 3-pointers and a driving dunk down the baseline past two defenders.
Denver was playing for a second straight night, after beating Miami 114-113 Tuesday night.
“We’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Iverson said. “We had enough energy, we just didn’t get it done. They played better than us.”
The Magic lead ballooned to 15 in the fourth, but never felt out of reach. J.R. Smith hit four 3-pointers, and Iverson reinvigorated a Denver dribble attack that Orlando couldn’t stop in the first quarter.
But Orlando held off the Nuggets, with Hedo Turkoglu’s help. The forward missed most of the third quarter in foul trouble, but scored 12 of his 18 points in the final period.
“Give Orlando credit—they played with a killer instinct and a demand that this was an important game to them,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Kenyon Martin had 17 points and nine rebounds for Denver, and Smith finished with 16 points.
The Magic closed a five-game home stretch before the All-Star game 2-3. Denver had won four straight on the road, and three in a row overall.
Iverson moved into 20th place on NBA’s career scoring list with 22,203 points, passing Clyde Drexler. … The Southeast Division, which the Magic lead, entered the night on a combined 28-game losing streak. It had to end Wednesday, because division opponents Atlanta and Charlotte were playing each other. … Magic G Maurice Evans was ejected after picking up two technicals arguing a call in the third quarter. He had two points on 1-for-8 shooting.