ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Orlando Magic are getting back in a groove, and just in time.
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 15 rebounds, and the Magic rallied to beat the New Jersey Nets 105-102 on Friday night. Up next: Sunday at Boston, which is second in the Eastern Conference and three games ahead of Orlando.
“We want to win as many games as we can coming up into the playoffs,” Howard said. “We want to be rolling. We want to get hot once the playoffs come. We start now.”
Devin Harris had 25 points and nine assists, and Vince Carter had 19 points for the Nets, who went 1-for-8 over the last 6:16. Carter missed a potential tying 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to seal the Magic’s win.
“It was a great look,” Carter said. “Felt comfortable. Got my feet set, let it go and it looked good.”
The defensive effort late was one Orlando (45-16) will need if it wants to contend with Cleveland and Boston in the East, with some key games upcoming that will likely decide home-court advantage. The Magic play at nemesis Detroit on Monday, host Boston again at home at the end of the month and play Cleveland two more times.
“We haven’t really done that in a while,” Magic guard Anthony Johnson said of the defensive effort. “It’s been a couple months since we put together a full 48-minute game where we’ve had the defensive focus of a championship team.”
The Nets opened up a 95-87 lead on a 3-pointer by Jarvis Hayes with 7:26 to play, but their defense struggled to put the game away. The Magic went on a 14-3 run late, getting big shots from Lewis and Turkoglu that put them ahead 104-100.
It was the third straight game the Magic came from behind in the fourth quarter and won. Orlando has outscored opponents 91-54 in the final period in those games.
“It’s great to know you can do that,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I think it’s sending the wrong message to our team. And I think we need to bounce back to reality a little bit.”
Carter capped a 10-2 spurt to put the Nets ahead 79-72 midway through the third quarter. Carter had 12 points in the period, a back-and-forth shootout that saw seven lead changes.
Howard kept the Magic close, scoring seven points in the period—including converting a powerful 3-point play on a hook shot over Brook Lopez—that tightened New Jersey’s lead to 86-83 after the third quarter.
Still, it was yet another game that the Nets (27-35) squandered a lead.
“This is a make or miss league,” New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. “You make them, you win the game. You miss them, you lose.”
Howard had 15 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter, going 9-for-9 on free throws and converting three 3-point plays. With 5:03 left in the period, New Jersey’s three big men—Lopez, Yi Jianlian and Sean Williams—all had two fouls. Williams was the only one not relegated to the bench, and he picked up his third foul with 1:21 left in the quarter.
Howard provided immediate energy.
On one play early in the period, he missed a hook shot, ran down court and stole the ball from Lopez, then hustled back down on offense to beat his man for a dunk. Howard scored eight straight points during one stretch to help Orlando take a 32-29 lead after the opening period.
But things changed fast.
After sitting out the first five-plus minutes of the second quarter, Howard picked up three fouls in a little more than two minutes, the last coming with 4:39 remaining in the half on a nifty pump fake by Harris. New Jersey took a brief 40-37 lead, but couldn’t contain the Magic’s sharpshooting perimeter players.
The Nets found themselves trailing 60-59 at the half despite shooting an outstanding 58.3 percent from the floor and holding the Magic to 43.2 percent.
Tiger Woods, a central Florida resident and regular at Magic home games, was sitting at his usual courtside seat. Earlier Friday, it was announced that Woods would enter the CA Championship at Doral next week, which will be the first stroke-play event he has played since winning the U.S. Open in a playoff last June. … The Magic hosted Faith & Family night after the game, which included musical performances by Christian artists Angela Courte, Trent Monk and Shane & Shane. … The Magic are 2-0 this season against the Nets, both times in Orlando. The teams meet for the final time in the regular season April 11 in New Jersey.