At times this season, trade speculation surrounding Dwight Howard has seemed to impact the Orlando Magic's performance on the court. Howard's own production, however, has rarely been called into question.
Coming off another dominant performance, Howard looks to continue his stellar play and help the Magic to their fifth win in six games as they host the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
A free agent after this season, Howard has been hounded by trade rumors as Orlando risks losing him for nothing in the offseason if they can't sign or trade him before then. Despite the distraction, Howard has been as dependable as ever, ranking among the league leaders in scoring (21.0 points), rebounding (a league-leading and career-high 15.4 per game), blocks (2.2) and field-goal percentage (56.6).
Howard's dominance inside has helped the Magic (16-10) win four of five after a four-game losing streak during which he questioned some of his teammates' effort. Howard had 25 points and 24 rebounds as the Magic beat Southeast Division-leading Miami 102-89 on Wednesday. It was the 38th 20-20 performance of his career and sixth this season.
"For us, it's one game. We have to come back Friday and get the next game," Howard told the Magic's official website. "Each night is different, but we have to continue to do one thing the same and that's play hard, give the same effort every night. For our team, this was a great win ... but we have to erase this game and move on to the Hawks."
Howard had plenty of help from Orlando's perimeter shooters against the Heat. The Magic went 17 of 42 from 3-point range, with seven players connecting from beyond the arc. They're shooting 42.0 percent from long range in their wins and 31.8 percent in their losses.
Ryan Anderson, leading the NBA with 74 3-pointers made, went 5 for 11 from outside against Miami.
"If somebody starts rolling, then all the attention's going to be on them. Then we'll swing it around and we've got another shooter," Anderson said. "I think when the crowd gets into it, when we have great energy as a team and we're being really unselfish and moving the ball, it is contagious."
The Magic will try to continue their recent surge against a Hawks team that eliminated them in six games in the first round of the playoffs last season. Howard averaged 27.0 points and 15.5 rebounds while shooting 63.0 percent in the series, but the Magic's outside shooting failed them as they shot 26.2 percent on 3-pointers.
The Hawks (17-9) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 97-87 home win over Indiana on Wednesday. Josh Smith had 28 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks.
"We've got to play with urgency and desperation as a team," Smith said. "Tonight, it definitely showed. We had to get a win before we go out on the road."
Atlanta plays six of its next seven on the road, with the only home game coming Sunday against Miami.
Joe Johnson added 20 points and a season high-tying eight assists against the Pacers. The Hawks are 13-1 when their leading scorer finishes with at least 18 points and 4-8 when he is held to 17 or fewer.