Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
Howard shot 13-of-16 from the floor.
Orlando 101, Utah 90
ORLANDO, Fla., March 14 (AP)-- Coach Brian Hill told his Orlando Magic they needed only one game to shake a losing streak and get back into the playoff picture.
It happened Wednesday night, when Dwight Howard had 31 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Magic to a 101-90 victory over the Utah Jazz.
The win put the Magic (30-36) back in position for the eighth seed in the dismal Eastern Conference after the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers also lost Wednesday. Orlando, which after the first month of the season had one of the league's best records, is just 3-10 since the All-Star break.
"Like I said to the guys tonight, it only takes one or two nights to change this whole thing around and get you back in the hunt,'' Hill said. "Now it's about staying there and not losing any more ground.''
Howard also won the battle of the boards against Carlos Boozer, who is right behind the Magic star in the league rebounding statistics. Both are among the NBA's top four - Howard third with 12 per game, Boozer tied for fourth with Charlotte's Emeka Okafor averaging 11.7.
Boozer had seven rebounds to go with 29 points, 16 of them in the first half on 8-for-11 shooting.
"My coach was really chewing me out at halftime about stopping Boozer from scoring, about stopping them from getting easy baskets,'' Howard said. "We needed this game. We actually looked at the standings to see where we're at. We're still right there in the hunt - now we just have to bear down on the rest of the games.''
Mehmet Okur had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Derek Fisher scored 13 points and Deron Williams had 14 points and had 11 assists for Utah. The Jazz fell to 21-4 when the second-year point guard hits double digits in assists.
The Magic opened a 15-point lead near the end of the third quarter on J.J. Redick's two free throws, while Utah shot just 8-for-22 in the period. Howard extended the lead to 89-68 with just under 9 minutes left on a dunk following two offensive rebounds off long jumpers.
The Magic nearly gave it away as Utah cut that lead to 92-88 with 2:46 left. Okur hit two 3-pointers, the second banked in, while Fisher added another.
Howard fended off the run with back-to-back layups that put the game back out of reach.
"We haven't been able to beat Howard at all,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He just annihilates us, and gave us something we couldn't deal with.''
The Jazz had 10 turnovers in the game's first 15 minutes, and more in the first half (16) than they average in a game (15.6). They finished with 22 for 27 Magic points, while Orlando coughed it up 22 times for 15 Jazz points.
The loss was Utah's second in a row, a night after the Jazz blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against Miami to snap their six-game winning streak. The Jazz resume their four-game road trip Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers and Saturday at Cleveland.
"We have to get better fast,'' Boozer said. "Playoffs are no joke. I have been talking to some of the guys who have been there like (Fisher) and teams take stuff away. We have to be able to adjust to it and play more physical and not be taken back by other people's physical play.''
Andrei Kirilenko left the game early in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain. The Jazz said X-rays were negative but he did not return, and for the second night in a row didn't score a first-half point. Kirilenko finished with two rebounds and two assists and did not attempt a shot.
The Magic led by eight after a Jazz dry spell in the first four minutes of the second quarter. Utah tied the game at 40 on Fisher's 3-pointer just before halftime and trailed by two at the break after Tony Battie's layup.
Notes: Orlando did not make a 3-pointer (0-for-9), while Utah shot 50 percent (6-of-12) from behind the arc. ... Magic F-C Darko Milicic was a late scratch with a lower back strain. Battie played his first game since early last month after rehabilitating a fractured right thumb, and G Keyon Dooling returned to the lineup after resting Monday against Charlotte with back and neck spasms. . ... The Magic have won six of their last eight at home against Utah.