Howard, Magic hold off Bulls for second straight winNov 4, 2008 - 4:40 AM ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- The NBA season isn't even a week old, and Dwight Howard has already rounded into midseason form.
The All-Star and Olympian registered his fourth straight double-double, collecting 22 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Orlando Magic to a 96-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
Even with another dominant showing from their franchise center, the Magic had to hold off a late surge by Chicago. After falling behind by as many as 17 in the second half, the Bulls gradually cut into the deficit until nearly stealing a victory in the final minute with a late 9-0 run to pull to within a point.
"What we have to do when we get the big lead is not relax," Howard said. "We've got to put the pressure on the other team. We've got to bury them. ... We've got to get used to playing 48 minutes hard."
With less than a minute remaining, rookie point guard Derrick Rose drove to the baseline and hit an off-balance runner that got an opportunistic bounce from the rim and fell in to cut the Magic's lead to 93-90.
Following consecutive misses from Hedo Turkoglu, the Bulls pushed the ball quickly up the floor once again. This time, Ben Gordon was the finisher, draining a short jumper to make it 93-92 with 23 seconds on the clock.
"That was a good comeback," Rose said. "We are a young team and we are trying to get to know each other and play with each other. For us to go out there and come back like that really showed good signs."
However, Orlando forward Rashard Lewis - who finished with 21 points and 11 boards - knocked down 3-of-4 free throws to help ice the victory to push the lead back to four.
That's when things got messy - at least for Chicago's offense. With five seconds left, Andres Nocioni leaned into Lewis and drew a three-shot foul - only to misfire twice. After a miss on his third attempt, the Argentine forward grabbed the offensive board, raced back to the perimeter and launched a potential game-tying 3-pointer that fell short.
"I thought the thing we did well was we got some stops down the stretch, but boy, we didn't finish well," Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But the way we're struggling right now, I'm just happy to get out of there with a win."
With that, the Magic escaped with their second win in a row following an 0-2 start.
While Howard went quiet in the fourth quarter - with his biggest weakness, free-throw shooting, coming into play late in the period with two crucial misses from the line - he set the pace for the Magic thanks to another stellar all-around effort. Not bad for a guy coming off the most strenuous summer of his career.
Howard made his first-ever playoff appearance in the spring, then followed that up with a whirlwind summer with the U.S. men's basketball team before returning to training camp to prepare for the season. But despite the extra wear and tear, Howard has been as good as new through the season's first week.
Monday's game marked the third time in four games that he he has blocked five shots, and the 15 boards tied a season high.
"It is a huge load guarding Dwight," Chicago center Drew Gooden said. "I think he is applying himself as a dominant center in this league. It was a team effort, and there is only so much a man can do. He is a great basketball player."
Lewis, the team's high-priced free-agent acquisition from last summer, caught fire in the second half as Orlando stormed ahead. The veteran forward capped a 17-1 run in the third quarter with eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers.
"Any team playing us knows any time we'll get our offense going, it's going to be tough," Howard said.
The Bulls, who have undergone a systemic facelift this offseason, continued to look messy and out of sync for large chunks of time but managed to keep the Magic on their toes on the strength of timely shooting and the dribble-penetration of Rose and Gordon. The backcourt duo combined for 31 points on 14-of-30 shooting.
"Offensively (we were) very erratic, but we battled, we got back in the game there and went a little small with the matchups, just to try to get us something going," Chicago head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We couldn't convert down the stretch."
Gooden led the Bulls with 21 points before fouling out, while Nocioni added 20 off the bench.
ORLANDO 96 FINAL
Nov 3 9:39 PM
ORLANDO 76 END, 3RD QTR
Nov 3 8:53 PM
ORLANDO 50 HALFTIME
Nov 3 8:11 PM
ORLANDO 31 END, 1ST QTR
Nov 3 7:38 PM
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