SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Jameer Nelson scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and Dwight Howard returned from a one-game suspension to lead the Orlando Magic to a 106-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
Howard had 16 points and 15 rebounds but fouled out late, and Jason Richardson scored 19 points to help the Magic overcome an eight-point deficit and open a five-game road trip with a much-needed victory. Orlando was coming off an ugly loss to Portland that Howard missed because he picked up his 16th technical foul this season, forcing an automatic suspension.
DeMarcus Cousins had 29 points and Marcus Thornton finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Kings, who upset the Magic earlier this season but collapsed late in this one.
The Magic took their first lead of the fourth quarter, 98-97, on Richardson’s 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes left. The teams traded baskets, and then Nelson answered with an 18-foot jumper to extend Orlando’s lead to three.
Howard fouled out with 61 seconds left, but the Magic closed out Sacramento without their All-Star center. Hedo Turkoglu followed with a 3-pointer that put the Magic ahead by five.
Orlando missed three straight free throws and nearly let the Kings back. But Luther Head’s potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds rimmed out, sealing another loss for a Kings franchise that has fallen on hard times.
The Kings, who had another spotty crowd, are in talks about moving the franchise south to Anaheim. They were again without leading scorer and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, still trying to come back from plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Orlando was surely glad to have its star back.
The game was the first since Howard served the NBA’s first suspension for excessive technical fouls this season. Players are suspended one game on their 16th technical foul and every two technicals after that.
The Magic lost 89-85 to Portland on Monday night without Howard, and they desperately need him in peak form if they have any hope to make it back to the Eastern Conference finals for a third straight year.
Cousins, Head and Samuel Dalembert were called for technical fouls for Sacramento. Nelson also was whistled for a technical for arguing.
The Kings saddled Howard in foul trouble to build an eight-point lead in the second quarter with him mostly on the bench. After Howard picked up his fourth foul with 10:58 remaining in the third quarter, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy decided to take his chances and stick with his big man.
Howard helped the Magic go ahead 67-64 and stayed clear of picking up his fifth foul early. They Kings took a 79-76 lead after three quarters but never could pull away big.
NOTES: Magic PF Ryan Anderson grew up near Sacramento rooting for the Kings. He said the possibility that the franchise could move and leave the area without an NBA team is a difficult scenario to imagine. “It would be weird. It would be tough for a lot of people. There are still a lot of Kings fans,” he said. … The Kings wore the retro uniforms of the Rochester Royals. … Richardson played despite a severe cold and congestion.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)