Howard came home from the gold-medal performance determined to be a more dominating force for the Magic this season and he certainly was Saturday night in Orlando’s 110-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Howard had a season-high 32 points and 21 rebounds and added four blocks against the Pacers, who tried everything but shackles against the Magic center. It was his first 20-rebound performance this season and fourth time in his career that he had 30-plus points and 20-plus rebounds.
“I have the word dominating written all over my house and I talk about it a lot before every game,” Howard said. “I think about dominating the whole game. I’ve got to have that type of mentality every night for our team to be successful.”
Four Pacers split the defensive assignment on Howard, but other than fouling him hard the whole night they used a combined 16 fouls between them none had much success in slowing him down.
Magic sharpshooters Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, with an assist from point guard Anthony Johnson, did their best to take some of the pressure off Howard by shooting repeatedly from behind the 3-point line. That threesome hit 11 of 20 3-pointers.
“Dwight is a load, he dominated the whole night,” Pacers point guard T.J. Ford said. “We tried everything, but with Dwight performing like that and Rahsard and Turkgolu taking you on the perimeter, posting you up and taking you to the free throw line, they’re definitely a tough team.”
Lewis finished 24 points, Turkoglu 22 and Johnson a season-high 16 for the Magic, who had a 14-point lead in the middle of the second quarter and were never seriously challenged in the second half.
“The 3-ball is one thing that can really give you an advantage,” Johnson said. “Anytime they made a run, we made a 3 and got the lead back under control. When we shoot the ball like that, we’re tough to beat.”
Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels tried to help the Pacers keep up with the Magic, but the Pacers could never get enough defensive stops to overcome the a 14-point second quarter and 22-point third quarter deficits. Granger finished with 27 points, Daniels had 21, Troy Murphy added 13 and Roy Hibbert had 10.
“We’ve got to pick up our intensity a little more earlier in the game,” Daniels said. “We waited too long to do it. We dug ourselves such a deep hole that it was kind of hard to get out of it.”
The Magic blew it open in the middle of the third quarter with a 12-5 run fueled by Lewis. The 6-foot-10 forward, who has been struggling with his shooting all season, had 10 points during the run, including a 3-pointer that made it 81-59 with 2:54 left in the period.
The Pacers rallied behind Granger, scoring the first eight points of the fourth quarter to cut it to 87-75, but Howard came off the bench after a short rest and hammered home a dunk while getting fouled. He made the free throw to give Orlando a 15-point advantage with 10 minutes left.
The Pacers cut the margin to eight three times, but couldn’t get any closer. Ford’s layup that made it 100-92 with 4:27 left was the last time the Pacers had the deficit under 10 points.
Magic SG Mickael Pietrus will miss at least three weeks because of a torn thumb ligament in his right hand. … The Magic are 10-1 against Eastern Conference teams. … Indiana has lost five straight to the Magic.