ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Many in the sellout crowd inside Orlando's Amway Center must have thought it was an April Fool's Day prank when center Dwight Howard wasn't on the floor during pregame introductions prior to the Magic's matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
It was no ruse.
And with the Magic's most important and usually durable player sitting out for the first time this season with back spasms, the Nuggets took advantage of his absence in a 104-101 victory Sunday night.
Ty Lawson scored 12 of his 25 points in the second half and Arron Afflalo added 22 points to lead Denver, who won back-to-back games for the first time since a four-game win streak the first week of March. Al Harrington added 18 points off the bench.
''It's a big win. It's a momentum game for us...if we get it rolling toward the playoffs,'' Lawson said.
Not only did Denver shoot 56 percent from the field - a high for an Orlando opponent this season - but it had its way scoring inside racking up 44 points in the paint. The Magic had 46 points underneath, but shot just 42 percent (37 for 88) and 25 percent (8 for 25), respectively, from the field and 3-point line.
It was a particularly strong offensive effort from a team that will conclude a season-high seven-game road trip on Wednesday against New Orleans.
Lawson, who came in averaging 15 points per game, said there wasn't anything special he did. Though he said with players like Danilo Gallinari missing his seventh straight game (fractured thumb), he felt like he had to carry the scoring brunt.
''Just being more aggressive,'' he said. ''We've got a lot of scorers who are down...So the last couple of games I've been trying to be more aggressive just to get to the basket and make things happen.''
Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 27 points, followed by Ryan Anderson with 20 and Glen Davis with 18. The loss was Orlando's third straight and only the second to the Nuggets in 19 meetings at home.
After averaging 17 turnovers a game over a 10-game stretch, Orlando had only 12 on Sunday. What was missing on this night was ball movement, with the Magic posting just 15 assists as a team. Nelson had five assists, but also was responsible for four turnovers.
Denver coach George Karl said not having to contend with Howard certainly helped.
''With our schedule we probably shouldn't have won two in a row,'' Karl said. ''I'm happy. It's a great win. We didn't finish like we wanted to finish, but it was an opportunity that was given to us and I think we took advantage of us.''
Howard was a game-time decision, but wound up missing just the eighth game of his eight-year career Sunday.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy continued to contend Sunday that the injury is result of Howard being jabbed in the back in the post by Dallas' Brendan Haywood during a loss to the Mavericks on Friday.
Haywood has denied the accusation, but Magic officials have sent what they say is video proof of the plays in question to the NBA office for review.
Only four of Howard's missed games have been because of injury, with the rest due to either illness or suspension.
Davis got his first start at center in place of the Magic's six-time All-Star and did a decent job helping limit Nuggets 7-footer JaVale McGee managing just two points.
Denver also kept the Magic in the game with 17 turnovers, compared to just 12 for Orlando.
''When you look at it, we couldn't stop them at all,'' Van Gundy said. ''We could not get a stop on any situation. It was a very frustrating night. I've been saying it all along, we need to get a lot better defensively and tonight we were certainly exposed.''
Orlando trailed throughout the second half before cutting a six-point halftime deficit to 93-90 on a free-throw by Davis.
The Nuggets responded with six straight points, including a dunk off a fast break by Kenneth Faried with 1:47 to play.
Orlando called timeout and Van Gundy and Nelson could be seen in a somewhat heated exchange in the ensuing team huddle.
Nelson downplayed the incident afterward, though, saying he was simply trying to inspire his teammates.
The Magic had one more rally in them, though, using a three-point play by J.J. Redick to cut it to 99-97.
After both sides exchanged baskets, the Magic to foul and sent Andre Miller to free-throw line with 10 seconds left. He hit both, but got only 1 of 2 on his next trip following a layup by Nelson.
Jason Richardson got off a desperation heave at the buzzer, but it bounced harmlessly off the backboard.
While the loss certainly stings, the bigger blow to the Magic came in that frantic final minute when Anderson stopped on Lawson's foot and hobbled back to the locker room with a sprained ankle. Van Gundy said he has ''no idea'' how bad the injury is or how long he might be sidelined.
The Magic play eight of their final 13 games against playoff teams.
''There's no Plan B when you're not getting stops,'' Redick said. ''You're never going to win games if you think you're going to outscore people.''
NOTES: Van Gundy said though the Magic sent examples that show Howard getting hit in the post during the Mavericks' game, they aren't expecting much to come out of it. The league office has as many as 14 days to take action on the film it reviews. ''They're response is 14 days, so I guess they're swamped,'' Van Gundy joked. ''That's why we don't send anything in. It's a waste of time.'' ... Magic are now 5-11 on April Fool's Day with only one win at home. ...Nuggets are now 15-2 this season against the East.
- Dwight Howard
- Denver Nuggets