MILWAUKEE -- Playing back-to-back road games and coming off a tough loss, the Orlando Magic could have fallen into a trap against a Milwaukee team that had just tripped up another Eastern Conference contender.
"We came out today with a lot of energy and a lot of effort -- which we needed last night, and we didn't do that," Howard said.
Orlando was coming off a deflating 97-93 loss at Cleveland, a game in which Howard scored only 13 points. That turned around right away Wednesday, as Howard scored 18 points in the first quarter on his way to 28 for the game. He added 12 rebounds, and had seven assists, falling three shy of a triple-double.
"Coming off of yesterday, no hangover, great energy," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Went up and down the court, played great defense -- and Dwight was tremendous."
Hedo Turkoglu also came close to a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Orlando, 8-2 in its last 10 games.
Van Gundy had some nitpicking to do, but wasn't surprised with the overall effort.
"It's really hard to argue with our competitiveness," Van Gundy said. "I think that there's a lot of things that we still need to improve on, but our guys come out and play for the most part. I think in terms of that, we're about as consistent as any team in the league."
Charlie Villanueva had 17 points for the Bucks, who are desperately trying to earn the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and were coming off a home victory over Boston.
Milwaukee fell to 2-3 on its critical and challenging six-game homestand that ends against Portland on Saturday night.
"I think there's a lesson learned here for us," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "Most sporting events are over before they even start, based on the mind-set of the teams that are playing and the players that are playing in it."
Skiles said the Magic are a good team, but added, "We really didn't compete at all. It's very disappointing and we need to learn something from it."
Howard went after the Bucks early and often after taking only eight shots in Orlando's loss at Cleveland on Tuesday. He scored 18 points in the first quarter alone, putting together his own 10-2 run to end the quarter.
He began the scoring spurt by converting three-point plays on back-to-back possessions, then dunked home a putback. After a pair of free throws by Milwaukee's Richard Jefferson, Howard scored on a layup with 23 seconds left to give Orlando a 36-20 lead going into the second quarter.
"He set the tone of the game," Villanueva said. "It was difficult because there are four perimeter guys around him and that makes it very difficult to defend. It just seemed like we couldn't stop him out there."
Howard then rested for the first six-plus minutes of the second quarter, but Milwaukee couldn't make up any ground.
Malik Allen was one of several Bucks who struggled trying to defend Howard -- and then Allen picked up his third and fourth fouls in the final minutes of the first half.
Allen's third foul came when he sent J.J. Redick crashing to the floor under the basket, then picked up his fourth foul on the offensive end with 32.3 seconds left in the half.
Howard's only noticeable misstep came midway through the third quarter, when he was called for offensive basket interference on a putback attempt. But it didn't matter much, because Orlando was leading 69-45 at the time.
Howard recovered to make a huge block near the end of the third quarter, slapping a shot by Milwaukee's Charlie Bell over his teammates' heads on the bench and into the second row of seats.
Howard then went skyward to slam home an alley-oop pass from Turkoglu early in the fourth quarter, putting the Magic up by 26.
- Howard, who had his first career triple-double -- in points, rebounds and blocked shots -- at Oklahoma City on Nov. 12, remained on the bench for much of the fourth quarter.
- Milwaukee was 3-for-12 from 3-point range.
- Howard was 8-for-13 from the field but 12-for-21 from the free-throw line.