Playing fewer minutes and sitting out key stretches, Howard had 30 points and 16 rebounds to lift the Orlando Magic to a 101-84 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Sunday night. Howard played a little more than 35 minutes, about seven fewer than he'd been playing over the past few weeks.
"The thing is, and it's both a blessing and a burden, he's so talented there's absolutely nothing he's incapable of doing," Van Gundy said. "From my standpoint, I expect him to do all of it."
He had some help.
Mickael Pietrus added 17 points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 15 for the Magic, who rebounded from an ugly loss to Indiana on Friday and improved to 2-1 since All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson suffered a shoulder injury.
Devin Harris had 28 points and 12 assists, and Brook Lopez added 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who had their four-game winning streak snapped a day after beating Denver 114-70 in maybe their most impressive performance of the season. But the Nets had no answer for Howard, despite throwing every kind of defense at him.
"We doubled Howard in the second half, that's how ironic it was," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "His ability to get easy shots, whether it's second shots or rim runs and surround it with 3-point shooting, they're built a championship caliber way."
While the Magic played its third consecutive game without Nelson, New Jersey guard Vince Carter missed the game with a hyperextended right elbow.
The Nets suffered most without their star.
Scrambling to keep pace with the high-scoring Magic, New Jersey relied heavily on Harris. His three-point play with 3:24 left in the third quarter cut Orlando's lead to 74-64. But moments later Nets coach Lawrence Frank received a technical foul for arguing a call against forward Sean Williams, helping the Magic score the final five points of the quarter.
"We came out ready tonight," Howard said. "We played pretty good defense. We still have to get back to playing the kind of defense we can play. Tonight was a push forward in that direction."
Ryan Anderson and Jarvis Hayes hit consecutive 3-pointers to trim the Magic's lead to 88-79 with five minutes remaining. The team's traded baskets before the Magic opened up from beyond the arc, with Pietrus making a pair of 3-pointers over the final minutes to put the game away.
But it was Orlando's size that gave the Nets fits throughout.
Howard had seven straight points, and reserve center Tony Battie added seven points in the second quarter to help Orlando take a 59-45 lead at the half. Harris was perhaps the only reason the Nets were able to keep it close, scoring 18 first half points.
"With a young team, it probably was a factor," Harris said about playing without Carter. "Obviously the veterans prepare like it was any other game, but morale was a little bit down coming out."
New Jersey was playing behind from the start.
Rashard Lewis capped an 11-0 Magic run with a 4-point play to help the Magic take command early, ending the opening period ahead 32-18. Lewis was fouled on the 3-point shot by Hayes, pumping immediate energy into the home crowd.
"This year we have a great chance to do something special," Howard said. "We can't let that go."
Point guard Tyronn Lue was in uniform on the Orlando sideline for the first time since being traded from Milwaukee last week for shooting guard Keith Bogans. Lue finished with two points, both on free throws. ... Nelson is still deciding whether to have season-ending surgery or hold off and attempt rehabilitation. ... Lopez shot an airball on his first attempt of the night and was taunted by the Orlando crowd. ... Turkoglu took a hard spill in the second quarter after he was fouled by Harris attempting a layup. Harris was assessed a flagrant foul. Turkoglu shook off the foul and showed no effects from the hard hit.