Dwight Howard displayed his loyalty to the Orlando Magic by leading a balanced attack to a comfortable 86-70 win over an understrength New Jersey Nets to the delight of an appreciative home crowd at the Amway Center on Friday.
In his first game after committing to the Magic through next season, Howard bagged 18 points and the Magic (29-16) had six players return double-digit scores as they pulled away after emerging with a 22-18 lead from a tight first quarter.
“You guys [the media] act like I went to another team and came back,” Howard told reporters. “It was great. I thank all the fans that stuck with me all this time, showed me their love. It was great to see it.”
Orlando extended their advantage by as many as 20 points in the third before coasting to victory. Yet despite the Magic’s dominance, head coach Stan Van Gundy still saw room for improvement.
“The only thing I was unhappy with, honestly, was the 20 turnovers and again just mindless,” Van Gundy said. “We just don’t value the ball very much, we just throw it around and don’t really think it matters and that’s going to be a huge problem. You’re not going to win a playoff series like that, you’re just not.”
The Nets (15-30) were led by reserve Gerald Green’s 14 points and DeShawn Stevenson was the only New Jersey starter to reach double figures with 11 points.
New Jersey, however, were missing top scorer Deron Williams for the fourth consecutive game with a strained calf muscle, while Gerald Wallace, acquired on trade deadline day, was expected to join the team yesterday.
“Some shots didn’t go down for us,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “They have five scorers all around the floor so you’ve got to guard everybody and they spread the floor. We competed, we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
Ryan Anderson had a double-double with 11 rebounds and 12 points and Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis each scored 13 points for Orlando.
SPURS 114, THUNDER 105
In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Tony Parker scored 25 points and Tim Duncan added 16 points and 19 rebounds as San Antonio inched closer to the Thunder in the Western Conference standings.
San Antonio rolled to a 27-point lead in the first half and were up by 20 late in the third quarter before Oklahoma City rallied to within two down the stretch.
Russell Westbrook had 36 points and Durant 25 for first-place Oklahoma City, who lead San Antonio by three games in the West.
HEAT 84, 76ERS 78
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, LeBron James scored 29 points and Dwyane Wade had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Miami held on to beat the Sixers.
The Heat led by 29 points in the third quarter before Lou Williams and Evan Turner sparked a Philadelphia comeback that got the Sixers to within four.
James hit a pull-up jumper and sank a pair of free throws in the final 90 seconds to help the Heat seal the victory and end a four-game road losing streak.
Turner had 13 points and Williams added 12 for the Sixers.
LAKERS 97, TIMBERWOLVES 92
In Los Angeles, California, Kobe Bryant scored 28 points and Ramon Sessions had seven points and five assists in his Los Angeles debut as the Lakers beat Minnesota for their 19th consecutive victory over the Timberwolves.
Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 14 rebounds and Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers’ fifth straight win overall — and their first game since early 2007 without Derek Fisher in their starting lineup. The five-time NBA champion point guard was traded to Houston on Thursday, and Sessions arrived from Cleveland to replace him, along with promoted starter Steve Blake.