for this game

Howard, Magic hold off Hawks

Jan 8, 2009 - 6:03 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic sure didn't make things easy against the pesky Atlanta Hawks. But they somehow managed to get the job done.

Howard collected 23 points and 19 rebounds and Rashard Lewis poured in 20 points to help the Magic escape with a 106-102 victory over the Hawks on Wednesday night.

Hedo Turkoglu also posted 20 points and Jameer Nelson added 15 for Orlando, which has won four of its last five games.

"We played well in the first half, but I think we came out in the second half thinking we had already won the game," Lewis said. "We kind of let up and they picked it up on the defensive end.

"We got out of rhythm and they got out and started making easy shots. They played great and made it a game at the end."

Josh Smith scored 21 points and Mike Bibby chipped in 17 for Atlanta, which lost for just the third time in 18 home games this season.

The Magic (28-8) moved five games ahead of the Southeast Division rival Hawks (22-12), who lost for the first time against a division opponent this season. The two clubs will face off against each other again Friday night in Orlando.

"They came in with a bounce and they played a lot harder at the beginning of the game than we did," Bibby said. "We fought back, but we couldn't get over the hump. We didn't shoot the ball well, but the good thing is that we have the again on Friday. We feel like we let one get away tonight."

The Magic were cruising in this one, leading by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter against a listless Hawks team, which waited until the final quarter to show up.

"They came to play in the first three quarters and were non-existent," Smith said. "We played their style of basketball. In the fourth quarter, we definitely opened up and cut the lead down."

The fourth-quarter surge came too little, too late.

Howard helped Orlando to a 93-74 lead with a hook shot with 10:20 remaining in the fourth.

Atlanta then embarked on a furious comeback attempt, scoring 23 of the game's next 31 points to cut its deficit to four on a pair of free throws by Bibby with 1:24 remaining.

But it was not meant to be for the home team.

Atlanta had two opportunities to cut the deficit to two but misfired each time.

Williams stole the ball from Nelson and dished it to a wide open Bibby, who roared down a wide-open court. But the Atlanta point guard's fast-break layup rolled off the rim.

Lewis committed an offensive foul on the other end of the floor, but Johnson failed to connect on a 12-foot jumper.

"We got into too big of a hole," Bibby said. "I missed any easy layup, but it happens. We need to start from the first quarter and play the whole game."

Howard split a pair of free throws with 32 seconds remaining to give the Magic a 102-97 lead.

Smith cut the deficit to three with a rebound layup with 18 seconds remaining, but Lewis connected on 1-of-2 free throws.

The Magic escaped with a win.

"I think we exhaled too early," Howard said. "That's what gave (Atlanta) a chance to come back."

It was all smiles in Orlando's locker room afterwards as the club moved to within one-half game of the Boston Celtics (29-7) for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta-native Howard was up to his old antics, singing in the shower, joking with Nelson and joining with his teammates in watching the Celtics' contest against the Houston Rockets on the locker room's sole television set.

The reigning Slam Dunk champ clapped his hands and chanted, "Go Houston" as the Celtics lost for the sixth time in eight games.

Nevertheless, he knew that his club has some more work to do if it wants to remain one of the conference's elite.

"I knew if we didn't execute against a good Atlanta Hawks team, anything was possible," Howard said of the comeback. "We should have (kept the pressure on them). It's a sign of immaturity. We have to learn to put teams away."

But fortunately for Howard and the Magic, the Hawks aided and abetted in Orlando's Houdini act by connecting on just 14-of-25 from the free-throw line. Smith, who led the team in scoring, was the biggest culprit - misfiring on all four of his free-throw attempts.

They also committed 13 turnovers, allowing the Magic to win here for just the second time in eight games.

"We missed 11 free throws tonight," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We turned the ball over at crucial times. The offense wasn't clicking like it has been in the past. We have to go to the practice court and figure things out."

Orlando used a 16-4 second-quarter run to open up a 47-35 lead with 4:55 remaining in the second quarter on Nelson's 20-footer and extended the lead to as many as 21 in the third quarter.

"You're not going to beat teams like that," Woodson said. "You can't spot them 21 points and think you're going to come back and win. You can't wait three quarters before you decide you want to play. We were flat. We were very, very flat, and it showed."

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