Dwight Howard had 20 rebounds and 13 points, and the Orlando Magic rolled to an easy 102-87 win over the visiting Houston Rockets last night.
Howard outmuscled a Rockets team lacking size and strength in the middle with Yao Ming out for the season. The NBA's reigning defensive player of the year blocked four shots and showed how dominant he can be even on a night when he didn't have his best offensive game.
Jameer Nelson added 15 points in his first start since Nov. 16, helping the Magic win for the fifth time in six games ahead of a Christmas Day match against the Boston Celtics.
Carl Landry had 20 points and Aaron Brooks finished with 17 for the Rockets.
Although it wasn't his biggest scoring night, Howard cleaned up the glass and swatted away mistakes on the defensive end.
"I know that the only thing that is important is that if I'm blocking shots and rebounding we're going to win games," he said. "I have to do what it takes for our team to win, and that's rebounding and blocking shots. It's about trust. I tell our guys I have your back."
Howard, who has struggled for most of his career against Yao, threw down a series of dunks in the opening quarter to get the Magic off to a fast start. Orlando ended the first quarter on a 14-2 spurt highlighted by a pair of three-pointers by Ryan Anderson, taking a 34-22 lead.
In other games:
* At Miami, Dwyane Wade scored 29 points and the Heat held the Utah Jazz to their lowest offensive output of the season, winning 80-70. Miami also had its lowest score of the year, one point shy of the 81 it managed in a win over New Jersey.
* At East Rutherford, N.J., Al Jefferson scored a season-high 27 points and the Minnesota Timberwolves got a favorable videotape review in the final minute to defeat the New Jersey Nets 103-99, in the battle of the NBA's two worst teams.
* At Auburn Hills, Mich., Andrea Bargnani scored 21 points, Hedo Turkoglu added 11 points and a season-best 11 assists and the Toronto Raptors beat the Detroit Pistons 94-64, matching the lowest point total in franchise history.
* At Denver, J.R. Smith scored 41 points in 30 minutes off the bench to lead the Nuggets over the Atlanta Hawks, 124-104.
* At Milwaukee, Antawn Jamison had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Earl Boykins scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, lifting the Washington Wizards to a 109-97 victory over the Bucks.
* At New Orleans, Chris Paul scored 20 points and the Hornets handed the Golden State Warriors their seventh straight loss, 108-102. Monta Ellis scored 35 for undermanned Golden State, which used only seven players because of injuries.
* At San Antonio, Jerryd Bayless scored 31 points in his first start for injured All-Star Brandon Roy, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a 98-94 victory over the Spurs.
* At Phoenix, Kevin Durtant outscored Amare Stoudemire 38-35 and the Oklahoma City Thunder tripped up the Suns, 117-113.
* At Sacramento, LeBron James had 34 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists as Cleveland beat the Kings, 117-104, in overtime. Tyreke Evans' 28 points led Sacramento.
* Celtics forward Paul Pierce had fluid drained from his right knee yesterday, and will miss the next 2 weeks.
* Pau Gasol has agreed to a 3-year contract extension with the Lakers. The deal extends through the 2013-14 season, and could be worth more than $60 million depending on future salary caps.
* Charlotte center Tyson Chandler has a stress reaction in his left foot and will be out at least a week.