Magic 100, Kings 84
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)
Dwight Howard has stopped playfully singing before free throws. He shoots about 100 after every practice and has worked to focus his attention on the rim and not the crowd.
If only briefly, the dedication is starting to pay off.
Howard beat and bruised an undersized Sacramento front line to help Orlando build a 32-point lead and cruise to its second straight blowout win. The much-maligned free throw shooter made his first 10 shots from the line and finished 11 for 12.
``They can keep fouling me if I'm shooting (at least) 70 or 75 percent,'' he said.
Howard has been on such a roll shooting free throws lately, the positive shouts from home fans are making for an unusual twist.
``I hear people just saying the percentages while I'm shooting, that kind of throws me off,'' Howard joked. ``I'm like, 'Oh, I'm 100 percent. You can hear everything when you're on the court. I'm like, 'Don't jinx me. Just cheer if I make it.'''
Howard said he had a feeling it would be a solid night from the stripe after making 80 of 100 in the morning shootaround. Still, he's shooting just 60 percent of his free throws this season - around his career average - and has yet to show he can be effective from the stripe every game.
``If he could stay in that 75 percent range, all the defense on him changes,'' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Tyreke Evans had 19 points, and Jason Thompson scored 10 for the Kings, who have lost six straight and 11 of 12 games.
Sacramento coach Paul Westphal offered a partial explanation for his team's skid.
``We're playing against division leaders every night,'' he said. ``That's pretty much the commonality. When you look at our schedule, it doesn't mean you chalk up losses in advance, but we haven't been favored very often.''
And they likely won't be anytime soon.
The Magic displayed the kind of effort and aggressiveness defensively that took them to the NBA finals last season but had been sorely lacking of late. They had losing streaks of four and three this month before routs of Indiana and Sacramento.
Beating teams with losing records easily, something that was Orlando's staple a year ago, is slowly starting to show again.
``We took care of the teams we needed to take care of,'' Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``In both cases, we played great in the first half, got a lead and really clamped down defensively.''
Orlando held the Kings to just 33 percent shooting and forced a smaller Sacramento team to take some woeful shots from outside. The Kings managed just 10 points in the second quarter.
``We could not make a shot,'' Thompson said.
The Magic were off and running with every Kings miss.
They scored the first nine points of the second quarter and had strong contributions from nearly their entire roster. Rashard Lewis (15 points), Redick (15 points) and Vince Carter (11 points) all contributed early and rested late with the game decided.
``Playing hard, helping each other out, talking, rebounding - everything went pretty good for us,'' Jameer Nelson said.
Sacramento did little to respond as Orlando went on another spurt, capped by a short buzzer-beating jumper by Nelson over Jon Brockman that banked off the backboard to give Orlando a 48-32 halftime lead.
The Kings didn't help themselves with a series of gaffs.
Brockman airballed a free throw in the third quarter. Evans was dribbling in the paint later in the period when, unaware of the clock, Sacramento was called for shot-clock violation. The Kings had a slew of other shots that clanked hard or completely missed the rim.
About the only highlight they had all night was a three-point play in the third quarter by Evans, who was wrapped up by Nelson, spun away and banked the jumper. By then, it didn't matter.
Howard had muscled his way past the Kings to put the Magic ahead 77-45. Howard wasn't even needed for the fourth quarter - and neither were most of the starters on both sides - with the game well in hand.
NOTES: Van Gundy was asked if he would ever run a marathon after his brother, Jeff, a former NBA coach who is currently an ESPN analyst, just completed one. ``No chance whatsoever,'' he joked. ... The Kings will wrapup their six-game road trip at Miami on Saturday night.