(Reuters) - Dwight Howard displayed his loyalty to the Orlando Magic by leading a balanced attack to a comfortable 86-70 win over an understrength New Jersey Nets to the delight of an appreciative home crowd at the Amway Center on Friday.
In his first game after committing to the Magic through next season, Howard bagged 18 points and the Magic (29-16) had six players return double-digit scores as they pulled away after emerging with a 22-18 lead from a tight first quarter.
“You guys (media) act like I went to another team and came back,” Howard told reporters. “It was great. I thank all the fans that stuck with me all this time, showed me their love. It was great to see it.”
Orlando extended their advantage by as many as 20 points in the third before coasting to victory. Yet despite the Magic’s dominance, head coach Stan Van Gundy still saw room for improvement.
“The only thing I was unhappy with honestly was the 20 turnovers and again just mindless,” Van Gundy said.
“We just don’t value the ball very much, we just throw it around and don’t really think it matters and that’s going to be a huge problem. You’re not going to win a playoff series like that, you’re just not.”
The Nets (15-30) were led by reserve Gerald Green’s 14 points and DeShawn Stevenson was the only New Jersey starter to reach double figures with 11 points.
New Jersey, however, were missing top scorer Deron Williams for the fourth consecutive game with a strained calf muscle while Gerald Wallace, acquired on trade deadline day, is expected to join the team on Saturday.
“Some shots didn’t go down for us,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “They have five scorers all around the floor so you’ve got to guard everybody and they spread the floor. We competed, we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
Ryan Anderson had a double-double with 11 rebounds and 12 points and Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis each scored 13 points for Orlando.
Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by John O'Brien