Magic 97, Bucks 87
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy tried his best to highlight all the good he could after his team's 97-87 victory over the injury-depleted Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
But he wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: While he is pleased with his club's seven-game winning streak, he hasn't liked what he's seen over the past two victories.
''We're starting to back off in some areas,'' Van Gundy said. ''I think some people, after a while, start to take some things for granted. ... I don't like the way we've approached the last two games. It's only two games and I'm not going crazy, but I don't like it.''
Orlando got 28 points and 13 rebounds from Dwight Howard and placed six players in double figures, but for the second straight game played only one complete half of basketball. The Magic had a poor first half in a 20-point win over Golden State on Monday and this time nearly gave up a 19-point lead in the second half against Milwaukee.
Corey Maggette scored 21 points to lead the Bucks. Larry Sanders had 15 and John Salmons 13.
The Magic's lead was cut to 84-79 on a jumper by Salmons with 4:06 remaining. But a basket by Howard and 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu got the lead back to 10 and helped Orlando secure the win despite shooting just 5 of 22 from beyond the arc.
Orlando guard Jason Richardson said that though this new incarnation of the Magic has only been together about two weeks since it was overhauled in last month's blockbuster trades, finding a way to put away teams will be paramount.
''We had a chance to bury them, but we didn't,'' Richardson said. ''But right now you just want to get wins. It's a new team. We learned something about ourselves tonight. We learned that we have to bury teams no matter what. We have to put them away. ... Championship-caliber teams find a way to do that.''
Bucks coach Scott Skiles said he was pleased overall by the effort of his team, which is trudging along without three of its top five scorers.
Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings (broken left foot), guard Carlos Delfino (concussion symptoms) and forward Drew Gooden (plantar fasciitis in his left foot) all remain out. Skiles lamented a 15-of-32 performance from the free throw line that doomed the Bucks during their comeback effort Wednesday.
''You have to give our guys credit for hanging in and trying to battle through it,'' Skiles said. ''We finally started making some plays, but once you get to that point you have to make every free throw. You feel like you have to make every shot and against a team of their quality it's very difficult to do.''
Orlando avenged an 11-point loss at Milwaukee on Dec. 4 in which it played without Howard, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick, who were all sidelined by the flu. With Howard out last month, Bucks big man Andrew Bogut had an easy time in the paint, scoring 31 points and grabbing 18 rebounds opposite Magic reserve Marcin Gortat, who is no longer with the team.
But with Howard back in the middle Wednesday, Bogut settled for more mid-range jumpers early on and often opted to kick the ball to the perimeter instead of challenging him. Bogut finished with six points and fouled out with 9:26 left.
Orlando led 49-33 at halftime as Howard stayed out of foul trouble and used an assortment of running hooks and short jumpers to post a team-high 17 points. He also mixed in some easy dunks, including one at the halftime buzzer.
Magic forward Brandon Bass, who for now has opted not to have surgery on his sore left knee, didn't look to be in any discomfort. He scored six of the Magic's first 14 points and his five first-half rebounds helped Orlando keep a 27-23 edge on the glass in the opening 24 minutes.
Bogut went to the bench with his third found at the 3:17 mark in the second quarter and Milwaukee struggled to find cohesion without him as an eight-point first-quarter deficit quickly grew to double digits.
Maggette had eight points off the bench in the first half, but the Bucks got only four points combined out of the starting backcourt of Salmons and Keyon Dooling as they shot just 34 percent from the field as a team.
NOTES: The Magic host Houston on Friday night before traveling to Dallas on Saturday to begin a four-game road trip. ... Milwaukee returns home to host Miami on Friday. ... Orlando F Ryan Anderson cut his right pinkie on a dunk in the fourth quarter, but said afterward that he was fine.