“He was in attack mode all night,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Nelson. “He made good plays on pick-and-rolls and that was key. That was the best game he’s played all year.”
With Howard limited to only four minutes in the first half, the Magic got strong performances from Tony Battie and Lewis, who picked up the rebounding slack as Orlando won its third straight game.
Battie, who had only nine points in his previous four games, got a pep talk from general manager Otis Smith after the morning shootaround. He finished with eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes against Philadelphia, taking care of some of the dirty work with Howard on the sideline.
“Otis kind of pulled my coattail and gave me some words of confidence and told me to keep working and I think I got my time in today,” said Battie, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and much of the preseason with a broken finger.
Thaddeus Young scored 19 points for Philadelphia, which placed four players in double figures. The Sixers cut a 23-point deficit to six in the fourth quarter but couldn’t draw closer.
Howard was called for two fouls in the first 2 minutes and was replaced by Battie, who had six points in the first quarter as the Magic built a 30-16 lead. Howard started the second quarter but quickly picked up his third foul and was taken out of the game.
“At times in the first half without Dwight, we played the game extremely well,” Van Gundy said. “Tony gave us a huge lift.”
Joked Battie, the only Magic big man to see significant time off the bench this season: “Selfishly speaking, sometimes you look up there and say, ‘I hope he’s in foul trouble more often.”’
With Howard out, the Sixers were able to control the boards, a necessary advantage because of their poor shooting. Philadelphia, which made only 38 percent of its shots in Wednesday’s 106-83 loss at Miami, shot 35 percent in the first half and trailed 54-43 at halftime.
“It’s not like when he goes out nobody knows how to play,” Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said.
Howard stayed out of foul trouble in the third and the Magic opened up a 23-point lead. Orlando, which normally has Nelson and Turkoglu work the pick-and-roll late in games, went to Nelson and Howard instead. Philadelphia fouled Howard repeatedly, but he hit only two of eight free throws down the stretch as the Sixers stayed close.
Howard scored seven of his 14 points in the fourth. He also had eight rebounds and blocked three shots in the game.
After committing 26 turnovers against Miami, Philadelphia was more careful against the Magic and finished with only 14 turnovers. The Sixers outrebounded the Magic 54-46 but shot only 38 percent.
Philadelphia’s Elton Brand, who had a double-double in four of the first five games, had 12 rebounds but scored six points. Samuel Dalembert had 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, and Andre Iguodala finished with 16 points, 11 boards and eight assists.
Orlando effectively double-teamed Brand, jumping him when he caught the ball and not at the first dribble, as most teams have done.
“We just have to move the ball and make them pay,” Brand said. “Once we start making shots then they’ll have to pick their poison.”
Orlando had a season-low 10 turnovers. … Orlando has won six of its last seven against the 76ers.