ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Dwight Howard was hacked, scraped, scratched, pushed and punished by the Indiana Pacers, emerging in the locker room with a wrap around his left knee and a few blemishes on his broad shoulders.
So maybe he hurts after all.
Fired up by all the physical play, Howard overcame a slow start to finish with 21 points and 23 rebounds, powering the Orlando Magic past the Pacers 106-98 on Monday night.
“I don’t enjoy it,” Howard said. “But I just have to remain patient, remain calm and try not to get frustrated.”
Howard endured hard-hitting fouls and a Pacers team determined not to let him dunk. He went 4 for 9 from the field, still struggled with free throws but helped Orlando snap its two-game losing skid with some physical play in the paint.
He was hit so much that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was critical of the officials, again saying Howard is not getting the same calls as perimeter players such as Cleveland’s LeBron James and Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant.
“If you’re going to continue to hit him around the head and grab him around the neck, look I don’t care, those are flagrant fouls,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t care who you are, you’re only going to take that for so long. It’s absurd what’s going on.”
The Magic center had some help with 28 points from Vince Carter, who missed the past two days of practice because of a stomach ailment, sore right knee and slight hip discomfort.
But Carter sympathized most for Howard.
“It’s a scary feeling when somebody grabs your head and neck like that,” Carter said. “I just hope it stops before somebody gets hit.”
Mike Dunleavy had 26 points, and Troy Murphy added 14 points after frustrating Howard early for Indiana, which had its two-game winning streak end.
The Pacers tried to not let Howard get loose, quickly fouling him on catches deep in the paint.
That strategy was highlighted when Howard and Murphy got tangled up in the third quarter after the Magic center was hacked on the neck shooting a layup. Howard pushed his right arm out after the play to create separation, the two exchanged stares and were each called for a technical foul.
Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said Howard should have been reprimanded more for that play.
“I thought he threw a punch,” O’Brien said. “They have to just review it. They didn’t see the punch.”
“If I think I really wanted to punch somebody, I would,” he said.
Howard’s defense forced the Pacers to shoot from the outside. And when they collapsed in the paint defensively, that left the streaky Magic shooters with open looks, such as when Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick hit consecutive 3-pointers in the final two minutes to put Orlando ahead by eight.
Indiana’s formula nearly worked.
Howard was just 13 for 22 shooting free throws. But Howard said it’s frustrating being hit so hard and even joked that it felt like he was boxing, a sport which he did a little in the offseason to get back in shape.
“This is basketball. I’ll do boxing in the summer,” Howard said. “I don’t want to do boxing on the court.”
The Pacers had the Magic off to a woeful start.
Indiana stifled Howard early, made Orlando into a jumpshooting team and rushed out to a 34-17 lead early in the second quarter. That cushion could have been bigger.
But Carter made sure it wasn’t.
Carter made back-to-back 3-pointers late in the opening quarter, finishing with 14 points in the period to keep the game from being a blowout early.
Behind strong efforts off the bench from Redick and Anthony Johnson, the Magic slowly edged closer. Then their big man got going.
During one stretch in the second quarter, Howard swatted a layup by Murphy, sprinted to the other end for the rebound off Matt Barnes’ missed 3-pointer and slammed it down over Solomon Jones to start a three-point play.
That play brought the arena alive and capped a 28-10 run by the Magic that helped close Indiana’s lead to 54-53 at the half.
Murphy, who said he didn’t think a punch was thrown by Howard, said the Pacers were simply trying not to let Orlando’s center finish with dunks.
“You’ve got to foul the guy hard,” he said. “If you just slap him on the wrist, he still dunks it.”
NOTES: Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula was sitting courtside. … The Magic have started a run of playing seven of eight at home, including a Christmas Day matchup against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics.