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ORLANDO (NBA.com exclusive) -- Richard Hamilton's most productive game of the season wasn't enough to keep the Detroit Pistons in a game against the Orlando Magic, not when Dwight Howard was making made his foul shots.
Howard, who missed 10 free throws in a game against the Pistons three weeks ago, made 11-for-13 in a 116-91 Magic victory Wednesday night, offsetting Hamilton's season-high 36 points.
"Dwight's teammates were able to help him out more than we helped out Rip," said Detroit center Ben Wallace.
Howard dunked five times and finished with 33 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks, a little better than usual by his standards.
His free-throw shooting, on the other hand, was much better than usual, and precluded the Pistons (19-34) from making a late run at the Magic (37-18).
"Ben and Max [Jason Maxiell] competed the whole time, worked hard. We were going to use our fouls on him and he made foul shots," said Detroit coach John Kuester. "Give him credit. I thought those two guys did a great job on him, but he finished plays."
Free-throw shooting has been Howard's weakness. He finished below 60 percent in each of the last four seasons and really hurt the Magic with misses in the NBA Finals.
In his last 19 games, however, both his form and the results (.645) have improved noticeably.
There is no one explanation, Howard says, just a lot of little things picked up along the way.
"Every day I'm shooting, and guys come in on game days and talk to us," he said. "The little stuff like that helps in the end. I'm just going to continue to work on it, and I feel good."
The Magic couldn't stop Hamilton, who shot 12-for-18 and made all nine of his free throws. But it wasn't necessary.
"I think we did a good job for a couple quarters," Hamilton said, "but I thought we allowed the refs to get on us a couple of calls in the fourth quarter. We had our chances, but they played well."
Ben Gordon was ejected with 6:33 remaining for protesting a non-call. A replay showed J.J. Redick may have bumped Gordon's face while Gordon was defending him. When the whistle didn't blow, Gordon got right in the face of referee Eli Roe, drawing a double technical and the automatic ejection.
Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis made two 3-pointers each in a third-quarter run that quickly stretched Orlando's lead to 12, and Detroit never seriously threatened again.
Howard made 5-for-6 free throws and scored all seven Magic points on a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter.
"They made that run and we just didn't respond. That was pretty much it," said Pistons guard Will Bynum. "Dwight was very dominant in the paint and they played well tonight."
Carter finished with 20 points, hitting that figure for the fourth time in the last six games. The Magic also had a 32-13 advantage in bench scoring.
Jameer Nelson, who had 14 points and nine assists for the Magic, described the improved free-throw shooting is part of Howard's master plan.
"He's already the best big man and he wants to be even better," Nelson said. "Being the best means that if you have something wrong with your game, you have to correct it and that's what he's doing. He's not satisfied with what he's doing, so he's doing something to better himself."
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(STATS) -- The Orlando Magic had the Southeast Division all but wrapped up at last season's All-Star break, but there's a much tighter race to worry about with two months to play in 2009-10.
After 54 games to jell, Stan Van Gundy's now-healthy club is feeling pretty good about its chances.
Orlando returns to action Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons looking for an eighth win in nine games at Amway Arena.
The Magic (36-18) couldn't simply pick up where they left off after making the NBA finals last season, instead using the early part of the season to acclimate five new players while playing through Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension for an elevated testosterone level.
Jameer Nelson missed a month following left knee surgery and Vince Carter has struggled at times to fit in after essentially trading places with playoff star Hedo Turkoglu, but suddenly Orlando looks to be coming together. After briefly falling behind Atlanta in the Southeast, the Magic won 10 of 12 - including seven of eight at home - before losing 115-106 at Cleveland last Thursday.
Orlando leads the Hawks by 1 1/2 games, and while it's hardly the 7 1/2-game cushion at last season's break, the Magic are confident while focusing on the bigger picture.
"This is our chance. This is the last 28 games and we need to make that push for playoff positioning,'' said Carter, who averaged 22.5 points over his last six games after a miserable January in which he averaged 8.7 points and shot 28.4 percent. "We want to try to play our best basketball going right into the playoffs. This is the time.''
The last game of January epitomized Carter's struggles - he shot 1 of 8 and had two points at Detroit (19-33), though the Magic escaped with a 91-86 win behind a combined 31 points from reserves J.J. Redick and Michael Pietrus.
Orlando could use more strong efforts from Redick, who's averaged 15.7 points in three games against the Pistons. The Magic are 8-1 when he scores 15 points or more, which he's done in both wins versus Detroit.
"I really think we have enough talent and we're going to make enough shots, but it's all going to come down to us getting stops and being consistent defensively," Redick said of the Magic's approach to the second half.
That defensive consistency is all focused around Dwight Howard, who had 17 points and a game-high three blocks in Sunday's All-Star game.
Orlando is 15-2 when the NBA's leader in blocks (2.7 per game) swats away at least four shots, and he had five in the win in Detroit last month.
The Pistons haven't been healthy for any of their meetings with the Magic this season - Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton missed the first two, and Charlie Villanueva sat out last month's loss - but can make that claim Wednesday.
It wasn't any of those three that made the difference Tuesday against Minnesota, however. Rookie Jonas Jerebko scored 21 points in 21 minutes in a 108-85 victory.
"We knew we could play like this,'' Jerebko said. "It's a lot of fun when we play together and share the ball. We just have to keep it up.''
Will Bynum had 14 of Detroit's season-high 37 assists.
Jerebko has averaged 8.3 points in three games against Orlando, but Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey have fared better. Villanueva averaged 20 points in two November contests with the Magic, while Stuckey has scored at least 18 in all three meetings.
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Feb. 17 vs. Detroit: Orlando is 32-46 all-time vs. Detroit (21-17 at home, 11-29 on the road) during regular season action, including 2-1 this season (see recaps below)…The Magic lost all three meetings with the Pistons last season…Orlando is 7-12 vs. Detroit in the playoffs (2-0 at home, 1-0 on the road, 1996 first round; 2-1 at home, 1-3 on the road, 2003 first round; 0-2 at home, 0-2 on the road, 2007 first round; 1-1 at home, 0-3 on the road, 2008 Conference Semifinals)...Orlando has lost 20 of the last 27 regular season meetings with the Pistons overall...The Magic have lost nine of the last 14 matchups at home and dropped 10 of the last 12 at Detroit…Assistant GM Dave Twardzik served as an assistant coach for the Pistons in 2000-01…Assistant Coach Brendan Malone served on the Pistons' bench for seven seasons from 1988-95 and helped them capture back-to-back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990…For last season's stats and Magic career numbers vs. Detroit, see p. 250 of the media guide…Nov. 3 @ Detroit – Pistons 85, Magic 80: Ben Gordon scored a game-high 23 points, as Detroit defeated Orlando, 85-80, at The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was the first loss of the season for the Magic. Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum each had 20 points for the Pistons, who were without Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Vince Carter led the Magic with 15 points. Dwight Howard tallied just eight points, four rebounds and three blocks before fouling out in just 17 minutes of action. Both teams struggled from the floor – Detroit shot just 37.5 percent, while Orlando shot 36.7 percent. The difference was at the free throw line – the Pistons were 31-of-38, while the Magic went 12-of-16…Nov. 6 vs. Detroit – Magic 110, Pistons 103: Dwight Howard recorded 22 points and 12 rebounds, as Orlando defeated Detroit, 110-103, at a sold-out Amway Arena. Howard also became the franchise's all-time leader in blocked shots with 825. Six Magic players scored in double figures. Matt Barnes and Jameer Nelson each scored 18 points. Charlie Villanueva led the Pistons and all scorers with 28 points, including 22 during the fourth quarter. Orlando exploeded out of the gates, leading 40-23 after the first quarter. The Pistons slowly creeped back into it, thanks to Villanueva's performance during the final stanza. Detroit cut the gap to 96-90 with 3:05 remaining, but it would be as closer as they would get. The Magic never trailed and went 30-of-35 from the free throw line…Jan. 31 @ Detroit – Magic 91, Pistons 86: J.J. Redick came off the bench and netted a team-high 17 points, as Orlando defeated Detroit, 91-86, at The Palace of Auburn Hills. With the victory, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy earned the right to coach the East at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. Dwight Howard tallied 16 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, while Rashard Lewis added 15 points. Rodney Stuckey led the Pistons and all scorers with 18 points. Orlando opened the game with a 25-10 run, but could not put Detroit away. The Pistons led 66-65 heading into the fourth quarter. Mickael Pietrus drained a three-pointer as the shot clock expired with 3:33 left in the contest to give Orlando the lead for good. The Magic held Detroit to just 39.2 percent from the floor.
BEST ALL-TIME SCORING PERFORMANCE VS. PISTONS: 46 pts., Tracy McGrady (@ Orlando, 12-25-02); Shaquille O'Neal (@ Detroit, 2-16-93)
BEST ALL-TIME SCORING PERFORMANCE VS. MAGIC: 42 pts., Grant Hill (@ Orlando, 1-3-00)
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