ORLANDO, Fla. — First, Stan Van Gundy praised the Orlando Magic after their latest win. Then, he criticized them for a lackluster second half.
Hedo Turkoglu scored 20 points to lead the Magic to an 88-68 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday in a matchup of division leaders.
“Our first half was our best offensive half of the year,” the Orlando coach said. “The second half was easily our worst.”
However, Van Gundy said he understood how his team could build a 61-31 halftime lead and then shoot 23 percent in the second half.
“When my wife wants me to do things around the house I do just good enough of a job to not get yelled at,” he said. “That’s human nature.”
Dwight Howard had 12 points and 15 rebounds in Southeast-leading Orlando’s sixth-straight win. Rashard Lewis added 18 points and Jameer Nelson 14.
The Magic’s only loss in their last 11 games was by one point at Phoenix on Dec. 12.
David West had 13 points for New Orleans. Chris Paul and Devin Brown each added 12.
Paul, the NBA steals leader (3.7 average), snapped his league-record string of 108 games with at least one.
“Half the time when I got a steal I didn’t even know it,” said Paul, who was unaware his streak ended until after the game. “It was going to end at some point so why not Christmas?”
The Magic led by as many as 31 points early in the third quarter. The Hornets did not get closer than 19 points the rest of the game.
“You don’t want to give the championship already, but they played well tonight,” Paul said. “They got us.”
New Orleans came in off a 13-point home loss to the Lakers on Tuesday. With backup point guard Antonio Daniels still sidelined, Paul has had to play nearly all the minutes, including a 17-point, 10-assist performance in 46 minutes against Los Angeles.
Paul and most of the starters came out early in the fourth quarter with the Magic up by at least 20 to rest for Friday’s home game against Houston.
Nelson said the Magic were worried more about keeping Paul from creating shots offensively.
“He can pass and score,” he said. “One of our big goals was to keep him out of the paint.”
With Peja Stojakovic also out for the fourth straight game with back spasms, the Hornets were weak up front, and the Magic took advantage. Lewis hit four of five shots, including both 3s, in the first quarter.
Hornets center Tyson Chandler picked up two fouls in the first six minutes.
“We have to understand that against some of the these you can come out and mess around a little bit, but against the Lakers, Orlando and the team we play tomorrow night you can’t come out that way,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Howard had three blocks and was called for goaltending twice as Orlando built a lead that grew to 29-14 at the end of the first quarter. Paul had eight points to keep New Orleans in the game.
Fueled by a pair of 3s by Nelson and six straight points by Howard, including a rousing putback dunk, Orlando went on a 22-4 run to take a 59-29 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half.
Orlando shot 56 percent and made eight of 14 3s in the first half to take a 61-31 lead.
Paul had 12 points at halftime.
The Hornets resorted to a Smite-a-Dwight strategy, fouling Howard nearly every time he touched the ball in the paint. Howard, who was shooting a career-low 57 percent from the line this season, made four of eight.
“His energy was great, but he was frustrated because they were hammering him inside,” Van Gundy said.
“Last year we would have won a big game or two and then come back and a lose a game we believed we should win,” Howard said. “So far we’ve been staying consistent. That’s a great sign of maturity for a young team.”
Former starter Mickael Pietrus, still playing with a split on his broken right thumb, continued to come off the bench for the Magic and finished with 11 points. Keith Bogans, who started in his place, did not score.
Notes: The Hornets won their previous two road games. … Howard
had made the first of two free throws early in the second half when the crowd started chanting “MVP. MVP” He smiled as he shot the second one, clanging it off the front rim. He had made four of five free throws to that point. … Howard was one of three players picked for the Slam Dunk competition on All-Star Saturday, Feb. 14, in Phoenix. He joins Memphis’ Rudy Gay and 2006 winner Nate Robinson of the Knicks. A fan vote will pick the fourth competitor. … Howard wore specially designed blue-and-red Superman shoes for the first and only time this season.