ATLANTA (AP) — For three quarters, Orlando hardly missed. In the final period, nothing seemed to go.
Fortunately for the Magic, they had enough of a lead to hold off the Atlanta Hawks.
Putting on a show for the home folks, Dwight Howard had 23 points and 19 rebounds as Orlando preserved a 106-102 victory Wednesday night in a matchup of the top two teams in the Southeast Division.
Orlando nearly squandered a 21-point advantage, catching a huge break when Mike Bibby missed a breakaway layup that should have made it a two-point game with just under 1½ minutes remaining. The Magic went nearly 5 minutes without scoring in the final period, but the Hawks couldn't hit enough shots — not even the easiest one of all — to complete the comeback.
Atlanta lost for only the third time in 18 games at Philips Arena.
"We exhaled too early," said Howard, an Atlanta native who recorded his 26th double-double of the season. "We gave them a chance to come back."
Josh Smith led Atlanta with 21 points, but he missed all four of his free-throw attempts — the worst culprit in a 14-of-25 performance at the line that came back to haunt the Hawks at the end.
The Magic stretched their lead on second-place Atlanta to five games in the first of a home-and-home between the division rivals. The teams meet again Friday night in Florida.
Orlando was dead-on through the first three quarters, shooting better than 55 percent. The Magic were really on target in the second period, finishing off a 10-of-16 display when Rashard Lewis banked in a desperation 3-pointer just ahead of the 24-second buzzer and the game clock, sending Orlando to the locker room with its biggest lead of the half at 60-45.
The Magic stretched the lead to 76-55 on Courtney Lee's 3-pointer with just over 6 minutes remaining in the third and was up 86-70 heading to the final period.
"You can't wait three quarters to decide you want to play," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "We were just awful, I thought, in the first three quarters."
Suddenly, Orlando went cold. The visitors went 5-of-16 in the final quarter and turned it over four times, giving the Hawks a shot.
Fortunately, the Magic had the guy with the "Superman" cape. As his teammates struggled, Howard scored two straight baskets — one of them a thunderous dunk — after pulling down offensive rebounds.