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Howard's big night helps Magic end five-game skid
(Reuters) - Orlando's Dwight Howard was back to his dominating best on Saturday with 20 points and 22 rebounds as the Magic ended a five-game losing streak with an 88-82 victory over Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia.
Howard, who earlier this week had reportedly called for coach Stan Van Gundy's ouster, grabbed 11 points in the fourth quarter despite playing with back spasms.
"That's the best I've felt of our team the entire year," Van Gundy told reporters. "They've played some better games . . . but for just fighting for a win and executing down the stretch and doing what we had to do, I haven't felt better about our team all year."
Howard's performance marked a major turnaround for the All-Star center, who scored only eight in a loss to New York on Thursday when Van Gundy told reporters he had been informed Howard wanted him gone.
Howard later denied seeking the coach's dismissal.
Glen Davis added 23 points and 12 rebounds and J.J. Redick had 19 points, 11 in the fourth, for sixth-place Orlando, who moved three-and-a-half games ahead of Philadelphia in the East.
"I think Glen has played four excellent games in a row," Van Gundy said. "He's been able to shut out all of the distractions. He's not trying to do anything but play the game the best way he can and that's it."
Howard's free throw and two jumpers by Redick put Orlando in command for keeps after Philadelphia had gone ahead 73-72 with 6:26 to play.
Thaddeus Young came off the bench to score 20 for the 76ers, who have lost three in a row.
Philadelphia are still hot on the heels of Atlantic leaders Boston, who had an 86-72 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Paul Pierce scored 24 points for the Celtics to cool off the Pacers, who had knocked Oklahoma City out of first place in the Western Conference the previous night.
Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for 25 points in the fourth quarter.
Danny Granger had 20 for Indiana, which had won four in a row.
The Los Angeles Lakers, playing without Kobe Bryant for the first time in two seasons, were blown out by the Phoenix Suns 125-105.
Bryant was forced to watch with an injured left shin. He was kicked in the shin last week against New Orleans and the pain in the area has increased, the Lakers said.
Shannon Brown had 24 points, 20 of them in the third period, for surprising Phoenix.
Pau Gasol carried Los Angeles with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Wilson, North Carolina; Editing by Alastair Himmer)
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