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Howard helps Magic halt losing skid versus Pacers

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

By ANTONIO GONZALEZ

Associated Press Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dwight Howard had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic held off the Indiana Pacers for a 109-98 victory Wednesday night to end a three-game losing streak.

Matt Barnes 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.

Danny Granger's jumper cut the Pacers' deficit to 96-88 with 6:34 remaining, leaving what was left of an Orlando crowd that had filtered out early stunned. But Indiana never got closer.

Granger finished with 25 points and Troy Murphy had 17 points and 10 rebounds, not nearly enough to help the Pacers avoid their third straight loss.

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 added another rim-rocking alley from Jason Williams 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 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.

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.

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 Stan 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 being 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. ... Howard is now No. 3 on the NBA's most popular jerseys list, the league announced Wednesday. The All-Star center jumped seven spots, moving into the top five for the first time. The rankings are based on sales at the NBA Store in New York and NBAStore.com since the start of this season. ... The Pacers were without Tyler Hansbrough (ear infection), Jeff Foster (back) and Luther Head (left ankle).



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