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Lewis, Magic continue to baffle Nuggets at home

Feb 14, 2008 - 4:54 AM ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- Dwight Howard responded to his loudest critic - his own coach - with a monster performance.

Howard scored 23 points and grabbed a season-high 24 rebounds while Rashard Lewis scored 25 points to lift the Orlando Magic to a 109-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.

After being called out by coach Stan Van Gundy for a lack of defensive intensity, Howard decided to let his play do the talking. He hit 8-of-13 from the floor, had two blocks and was a big reason Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony fouled out after scoring 32 points.

Behind Howard, the Magic beat the Nuggets for the 15th straight time here by holding them to just 44 percent (33-of-74) from the floor and becoming the first team in seven games to keep Denver under 100 points.

Van Gundy was pleased with the improved defensive performance considering that prior to this game, the Magic had allowed an average of 106.5 points in losing three of the first four games of the homestand.

"All our guys worked defensively," Van Gundy said. "But I thought Dwight's presence changed everything defensively, especially when he plays like that. And to hold that team under 100 points and 44 percent shooting was terrific."

Howard said the criticism did not bother him and instead motivated him.

"Knowing Stan, the main thing is he's not going to let me be mediocre," said Howard, who called Van Gundy's admonishment, "Tough love."

"He's going to continue to push me every day in practice, every game, to get better as a player and leader for my team. I want to be the best player and my coach has to push me."

While Howard picked up his game, Lewis was the spark that helped Orlando take control of a close game.

In a third quarter that featured five lead changes, Lewis scored 14 points as the Magic closed with an 18-6 run to take a 76-69 lead heading into the fourth.

Lewis had nine consecutive Magic points in a 1:44 span during that decisive spurt. "I was just making the most of my opportunities, going with what the defense gave me," said Lewis, who hadn't scored 20 points in more than 10 games. "I was penetrating, getting to the line and took threes when they gave them to me."

"Rashard became the go-to guy," Denver coach George Karl said. "The defense wasn't bad, but he just made some big-time pro shots. Then Hedo (Turkoglu) came in the fourth period and kept it going."

Turkoglu, who played the entire fourth quarter with five fouls, scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and hit a 3-pointer with 6:19 left to make it 91-80.

Minutes later he hit another that stretched the lead to 97-84 with 4:54 remaining.

However, Denver used a 7-2 run to pull within 99-91 on a jumper by J.R. Smith. But Howard stemmed the tide by slamming home a rebound for a 101-91 lead with 3:04 remaining.

The Magic cruised the rest of the way.

Allen Iverson scored 21 points on just 5-of-16 shooting and chipped in seven assists for the Nuggets, who had won six of seven coming in but could not overcome the fourth-quarter deficit.

"I'm not going to use the fatigue factor as an excuse because it's not true," said Iverson, who played 50 minutes in Denver's overtime 114-113 win in Miami on Tuesday night.

"They just played better down the stretch, hit some big shots and made some big stops."

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