ORLANDO, (Reuters) – The Orlando Magic followed up their series opening annihilation of the Atlanta Hawks with a 112-98 victory on Thursday to open a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Dwight Howard powered to a game-high 29 points and 17 rebounds, Vince Carter scored 24 and the Magic head to Atlanta for Game Three tonight with a healthy lead and the momentum of six consecutive victories in the playoffs.
“We have so many guys on this team who can score that things tend to open up in the second half,” Carter told reporters after adding 20 of his points in the second half.
“In the first half, they did a good job on me coming off screens and put me in a zone a little bit. I just wanted to give the ball up and move the ball.”
Orlando appeared to be still coming to terms with their 43-point trouncing of Atlanta on Tuesday and started a little flat in Game Two, trailing the Hawks by eight points at halftime.
However, the second-seeded Magic regrouped and grabbed the lead midway through the third and used a clinical final quarter to outscore the visitors 28-15.
The Hawks went scoreless for more than three minutes early in the fourth, during which time Carter and Mickael Pietrus made three-pointers to put Orlando 98-87 ahead. By the time Jameer Nelson made his own triple with 4:28 remaining, the Magic had completed a 19-2 run to swell the lead to 18.
Orlando remains undefeated this postseason and center Howard is playing his best basketball at just the right time.
The All-NBA first-team center has overcome his foul trouble from round one and is enjoying greater accuracy from the free throw line, where he converted 13-of-18 on Thursday.
“I just believe that I can make it every time I step up there, and if I don’t, I believe I’m going to make the next one,” Howard said.
Al Horford led Atlanta with 24 points and 10 rebounds while reserve Jamal Crawford recorded 23 for the Hawks.
Atlanta has struggled against the Magic all season and has just one win in six total meetings.