source: DAN GELSTON | AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Dwight Howard’s reputation took a beating this week and so did his team.
It was time for his rebuttal.
Howard had 20 points and 22 rebounds, and Glen Davis had 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to an 88-82 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
After his ninth 20-20 performance of the season, Howard then defended his character by stating, “I’m not a bad guy.”
J.J. Redick scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to help the Magic snap a five-game losing streak. The Magic pushed aside the lingering rift between Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy to win for the first time since March 26.
The win was a needed break for a team that wants to turn the spotlight back on basketball.
Howard bills himself as Orlando’s Superman, but he was more a super distraction this week.
The Magic stamped their claim as Team Turmoil once Van Gundy disclosed this week that Howard wanted him fired. The two have since agreed it was time to move forward and focus on the team’s play on the court.
Van Gundy started a circus on Thursday morning when he revealed he was told by high-ranking team officials of Howard’s request. Howard walked up and hugged Van Gundy during that media scrum, unaware what Van Gundy had just said. After the coach walked away, Howard was blindsided that reporters knew the truth about his firing request.
After a strong 44 minutes against the Sixers, Howard said he just wanted to have fun and lead the Magic.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Howard said. “Regardless of whatever’s being said or how people want to portray me, I’m still going to be who I am. I’m the same person. I’ve never been a bad guy my whole life. But it happens. Everybody goes through trials and tribulations or whatever. This is what makes you. I’m not going to let it break me.”
Asked before Saturday’s game what he’s learned from this season, Van Gundy said, “too much to talk about.”
Led by Howard, the Magic outrebounded the Sixers 53-41. Howard had 13 defensive boards.
“This is the best I’ve felt about this team the entire year,” Van Gundy said.
Thaddeus Young scored 20 points, Jodie Meeks had 16 and Lou Williams 15 for Philadelphia. The Sixers have lost nine of their last 13 games and are in serious danger of missing a playoff spot after leading the Atlantic Division for most of the season.
Young, Meeks and Williams all come off the bench. None of the Sixers starters reached double-digits and coach Doug Collins said that unit has one more chance to get its act together before he starts making changes.
“We can’t keep digging ourselves a hold like that, just can’t do it,” Collins said.
The Magic took control of the game late in the fourth quarter to put away a Sixers team collapsing down the stretch. Elton Brand’s soft jumper let Philadelphia take a 73-72 lead and give it hope they could complete the comeback after trailing by 10 points.
Redick and the Magic took it from there. His 3-pointer with 3:21 left put Orlando ahead 82-76 and fans started heading for the exits.
Howard, who sat out a recent stretch with back spasms, went 7 of 12 from the free-throw line in the fourth to seal the win.
“Like I’ve said before, regardless of how many points I’ve got, I would never quit on my team, I would never quit on my coach, I never quit on anything,” Howard said. “I’m not a quitter. That’s just in me to play hard and fight every night.”
Davis was sensational during a recent stint in the starting lineup subbing for an injured Howard (sore back). He averaged 17 points over a four-start span that included 31 points against Detroit.
Davis was back among the starting five with Ryan Anderson (ankle) out against the Sixers. Van Gundy said scoring chances weren’t going to come easy for Davis with Howard back in the lineup. Davis wouldn’t have plays called for him and he’d have to embrace the approach of fighting for baskets.
He embraced it with fervor in the third quarter.
Davis scored 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting, abusing a Sixers frontcourt that doesn’t have the size to ward off Davis and Howard.
Philadelphia’s bench bailed out a starting five suffering from a serious off night in the first half. Brand and Jrue Holiday were scoreless, and Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had four points apiece.
No problem. Williams and Meeks both went 4 for 5 from the floor for 11 points and Thaddeus Young scored eight points to help the Sixers lead 45-37 at the break.
Milwaukee’s 116-94 win over Portland moved the Bucks within 1 1/2 games of the Sixers for seventh in the East. The Bucks are a 1-2 game behind New York for the eighth and final spot.
“If we keep playing defense like we did tonight, we’ll be fine,” Meeks said.