Things were much different this time around, a trend Orlando wants to continue in the second half of the regular season.
Howard had a season-high 32 points and 11 rebounds, and the Magic held off the Indiana Pacers for a 109-98 victory Wednesday night to end a three-game losing streak.
“I don’t care if we lose 10 games in a row,” Howard said. “I believe that the guys we have in this room, if we come together and sell out to the game plan every night and sell out to each other, there’s no one that should be able to beat us.”
Matt Barnes(notes) added 16 rebounds, 10 points and six assists to help the streaky Magic build a 29-point first half lead before going cold. Orlando had lost seven of its last nine games, and letting this one slip could have been a catastrophic blow for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“We needed it bad. We needed it really bad,” Barnes said. “It’s just one game, but hopefully we can build on this.”
The Magic took out their frustration on Indiana from the opening tip.
Howard slammed a two-handed alley-oop dunk from Barnes in the opening minutes, and Vince Carter(notes) added another rim-rocking alley-oop from Jason Williams(notes) moments later to stretch the lead to 22-8.
But they were just getting started.
The Magic extended their lead mostly from outside, shooting 9 of 13 from 3-point range in the opening half. They shot 60 percent from the floor before intermission, with six different players connecting from beyond the arc, going ahead 59-30 barely halfway through the second quarter.
“The next step to getting to where we want to be is we’ve got to sustain for longer periods of time and not shoot ourselves in the foot with some of our mistakes,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
The Pacers only added to their frustration.
They had poor passing—a few errant throws landing in the stands—and poorer shot selection. Indiana could do little on a night when Howard, the reigning defensive player of the year, was active and aggressive in the paint. He held Hibbert, who had a career-high 26 points the last time he faced the Magic, to just three points.
“I played probably the worst game I have had all year,” Hibbert said.
Howard, of course, saw things differently.
“He was on fire,” Howard said of their last meeting. “Everything he shot was going in. If he shot from half-court, it would go in. That wasn’t going to happen again.”
With Orlando’s ball movement and shooting at its best for the first time in a while, the Pacers were winded and had their hands on their waist early and often. Indiana coach Jim O’Brien’s fractured small toe on his right foot surely took a beating in this one, pounding the floor with his flip-flops—which he’s wearing to mask the pain—with every gaff.
After losing by 30 in Miami a night earlier, the Pacers two-game Sunshine State swing was no vacation.
“It’s a good thing we live in Indiana,” Murphy said. “We’re getting out of Florida.”
This was one chance even the Magic couldn’t blow.
Orlando was able to keep the Pacers away in perhaps the most surprising way. Howard, hovering around 60 percent for his career on free throws, was 16 for 24 from the line. Howard also added another alley-oop dunk—this time from Carter — with 1:34 left that essentially sealed the win.
The Magic kicked off the second half of their streaky season with the kind of victory that happened often a year ago on their way to the NBA finals. But blowouts have been rare for them this season.
They hadn’t lost three straight in Van Gundy’s 2-plus years as Orlando’s coach until doing it twice this month. They were defeated in four straight— including an ugly loss at Indiana—and followed that with two wins before dropping three in a row. The stretch was capped with a loss at the Los Angeles Lakers in a finals rematch Monday.
NOTES: O’Brien said he injured his toe when he banged it getting out of bed last week. … The Pacers were without Tyler Hansbrough(notes) (ear infection), Jeff Foster(notes) (back) and Luther Head(notes) (left ankle).