Playing through intense pain and swirling controversy, Orlando magic superstar center Dwight Howard delivered a performance for the ages on Saturday night.
Despite needing treatment on his injured back during every timeout, Dwight battered Philadelphia for 20 points, 22 rebounds and six assists in the Magic’s 88-82 defeat of the 76ers.
Remarkably, it was Dwight’s ninth 20-point, 20-rebound game of the season, a total that is more than all the other players in the league combined. And it was the 41st 20/20 effort of his career, which ranks third since the 1975-76 NBA-ABA merger.
Unable to stand upright totally after the game because of the searing pain in his lower back, Dwight made a point of saying after Saturday’s game that he was willing to do whatever it took to help his Magic get a big win.
“This is the most pain that I have been in since I’ve been in the league. But I was just trying to get a win,’’ Dwight said. “I just want everybody to know that I’d never quit on my team, ever. I know I have had some bad games, but I won’t ever quit on my team. Regardless of my stats, I’m going to play as hard as I can. Everybody needs to know that.’’
The victory was a big one for the Magic, who had lost five games in a row before Saturday. It was Orlando’s first five-game losing streak since 2006. But by winning the Magic moved a game closer to overtaking Indiana for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a very big win. I just think our effort and energy was where it needed to be the whole game,’’ Dwight said. “Guys came off the bench hitting big shots and we kept believing that we were going to hit the next shot and keep getting big stops on defense. It was a great win for our team.’’
Despite grimacing several times in the game and doubling over in pain at times, Dwight was at his best when the Magic needed it most in the fourth quarter. He pounded the Sixers for 11 points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, allowing the Magic to claw all the way back from a 10-point deficit.
And down the stretch, Dwight won the game by hitting several critical free throws. He made eight of his first 10 free throws and finished 12 of 18 from the line in the game.
Dwight’s hope is that the Saturday victory can give his Magic momentum heading into a back-to-back set of games against Detroit and Washington on Monday and Tuesday. And the Magic face Atlanta on Friday in a game that could go a long way in deciding the playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
“A win like this can rally the team. We really needed this win,’’ Dwight said. “We had to come out and play as hard as we can. We’re going to keep believing.’’