For one game, it was all there. For their next trick, making the effort consistent on a game-to-game basis.
Against Oklahoma City, Howard led with both his words and his actions. He scored a season-high-tying 40 points and anchored a defense that packed the paint and kept Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the outside. The Thunder, a team still in transition after acquiring Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics on Thursday's trade deadline, could not match the Magic's intensity and fell 111-88 at Amway Center on Friday.
Howard was Howard. He had his third straight 30-point game and absolutely destroyed Oklahoma City inside. Absolutely destroyed.
Serge Ibaka fouled out midway through the fourth quarter and Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich could barely put up any resistance. With Perkins and Nazr Mohammed still in transit after Thursday's trades, Oklahoma City was forced to go small. That made life even easier for Howard.
Still Howard had to convert and dominate. Nothing was handed to him as Oklahoma City played physical and fouled hard -- Howard picked up his 15th technical foul of the season in continued arguing with officials. Howard shot 16 for 20 from the floor and 8 for 12 on his free throws -- a 79.1 percent true shooting percentage.
Howard had a monster game offensively, but as always his impact was felt more at the defensive end.
Stan Van Gundy had some high praise for his team's defense tonight and he should. For a team that has shown little consistency in the last month and a half or so of the season, games like this show exactly what kind of potential the team has.
Oklahoma City shot only 33.3 percent from the floor. The Thunder posted a 95.7 offensive efficiency and 39.1 percent effective field goal percentage. Very good work by the Magic defense.
Kevin Durant scored 23 points, but shot only 7 for 22. Russell Westbrook had 18 points, but also struggled in shooting 7 for 19. The Thunder were kept out of the paint for the most part -- except for a few moments in the first and third quarters. Oklahoma City's 10-for-25 shooting on 3-pointers kept the team in the game until Orlando could completely pulled away in the final quarter.
Orlando opened up an 18-point lead in the third quarter and saw it quickly shrunk to eight. Howard made it 10 to end the third. Then Orlando started hitting 3-pointers and moving the ball again. And it was game over.
The Magic got a great effort from everyone on the roster.
Jason Richardson had 17 points, making five of his seven 3-pointers including a few that set the pace in the first quarter. JJ Redick added 16, scoring in a variety of ways including on some nice runners and from long range.
Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas had good games distributing the ball too. Nelson had 14 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists. Turkoglu finished with 10 assists and seven points. Arenas, who still struggled with his shot, looked to attack the paint and had four assists. He could have finished better at the rim, but his aggression was good.
The three combined to post a 30.3 percent assist percentage. Orlando did a good job moving the ball when not getting it into Dwight.
And then did a good job getting it into Dwight. Howard did have 32.9 percent usage rate and committed half the team's 10 turnovers. You can see how much Orlando leaned on its team leader.
They appeared to respond to his call to play with the right intensity throughout. Sometimes a public calilng out is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Of course a short-term cure will not cut it. The trick, again, is to do it the next game.