DENVER (AP) -The Denver Nuggets knocked Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone with tough, physical defense and by using an array of defenders against the Orlando Magic's star center.
Howard ended up having one of his worst games of the season, and the Nuggets fed off their defensive effort, getting 27 points from Carmelo Anthony and 24 from Chauncey Billups in a 115-97 victory over Orlando on Wednesday night.
``Offensively and defensively combined, it might be the best game we've played all year,' Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Karl said the defensive effort against Howard was especially important to Denver's dominating performance.
``We were trying to be physical with him,' Karl said. ``Turning him over five times and not allowing him to make many shots was huge. There's not going to be many teams that hold him under 10 points.'
Howard, who had 30 points and 16 rebounds in Orlando's win at Sacramento on Tuesday, had 13 rebounds and three blocked shots but was held to 8 points.
``They did a good job of mixing it up and trying to have me off-balance,' said Howard, who made only one of seven shots from the floor while being guarded at various times by Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin.
``They swarmed him and their big guys are very athletic,' said Matt Barnes, who had a season-high 28 points to lead Orlando. ``He's Superman, but when you swarm him with that many guys, it's hard to get a shot off.
Said Anthony: ``Our big guys did a great job tonight making it tough for him. Each guy we put on him had something different for him.'
JJ Redick, with 13 points, and Mickael Pietrus, with 12, were the only other Magic players in double figures.
It was Denver's fourth win in five games, including victories over fellow division leaders Orlando and Cleveland.
``We've been pretty good against good teams. Our problem has been that switch of intensity' when facing lower-level teams, Karl said. ``We have to stop messing around with our intensity and play the same way every night.'
The Magic were playing without their leading scorer, Vince Carter (shoulder), for a third straight game and the second game of a back to back after winning at Sacramento the night before.
The rugged schedule may have caught up to the short-handed Magic in the third quarter, when the Nuggets outscored them 35-19, going from a three-point deficit at halftime to an 85-72 lead heading into the fourth.
``We clearly got totally dominated in the second half,' said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. ``I'm very disappointed.'
Denver began the decisive quarter with a 12-0 run, finishing the flurry with consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony and Arron Afflalo. Rashard Lewis' 8-foot running jumper broke up the string, but Afflalo, who had 13 points, answered right away with another 3-pointer.
With 4:24 left in the period, Redick connected on a 3-pointer that cut Orlando's deficit to 72-63. From there, though, Denver extended the lead, scoring nine of the next 11 points and moving ahead by 16 when Billups connected from 3-point range with 1:57 left in the period.
By the time J.R. Smith broke free for a fastbreak dunk midway through the fourth quarter, putting Denver up 101-76, the Nuggets were coasting.
It didn't begin that way for Denver.
Anthony sparred verbally with officials and was hit with a technical after they did not call a foul when Anthony felt he was roughed up trying to drive through a double team for a layup in the waning seconds of the second quarter.
The Nuggets got the ball to Anthony for a 3-point try from the top of the key at the buzzer but it bounced off the rim and Denver trailed at the half 53-50.
NOTES: Nuggets G Ty Lawson missed his fourth game in a row with a left ankle sprain. ... Orlando fell to 9-12 in 21 games in Denver.
The Associated Press News Service
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