"Man, I hope these boys don't come back again," Howard said.
They nearly did.
Rookie Courtney Lee had a career-high 24 points, Hedo Turkoglu added 16 and the Magic nearly blew another 18-point lead before beating Philadelphia 96-87 on Wednesday night to even the series at a game apiece.
Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, and Rashard Lewis made a pair of big jumpers in the final minutes to help Orlando get its fourth win in five chances against Philadelphia this season.
"They want me to shoot the jumpshot," Lee said. "Knowing that Dwight's so dominant down low, it's up to me to make shots when he's double-teamed."
Andre Miller had 30 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half for the Sixers, who closed the gap to five points and almost erased the same deficit they faced in the series opener. Game 3 is Friday in Philadelphia.
Howard and Lee led a second-half charge that seemed to put the game away.
The two played an inside-out game that highlighted a 16-5 third quarter spurt, a series of put-back dunks from Howard and jumpshots from Lee that overwhelmed Philadelphia. Howard soared high on a missed layup by Rafer Alston, reaching with one hand for a furious dunk that he finished with a roar to put Orlando ahead by 18 points midway through the period.
But it was Lee who was consistent throughout. The rookie from Western Kentucky finished 10-for-17 from the field, and he's scored 42 points in the first two games combined.
"He just seems to be playing freer and looser than some of our guys," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Some of our guys look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Hopefully, we can all start playing like that."
Just like the series opener, the Sixers would make a big lead disappear.
Philadelphia came within five points in the fourth quarter on an uncontested layup by Louis Williams after Lee missed a dunk on the other end. Almost as stunned as they were at the end of Game 1, the home fans were silenced, some covering their mouths in disbelief.
"We feel like we had some opportunities," Iguodala said. "They did all the little things. They hit a big 3. They got all the little loose balls. They made the shots. They got all the rebounds. They did a great job of sealing the game this time."
The Magic held off the Sixers after Howard fouled out with 3:11 remaining, with Lewis hitting a jumper to put Orlando ahead 88-79 after Philadelphia again came within five points. Just when the Sixers started to rally again, Lewis grabbed a big offensive rebound and converted the layup to give the Magic back an 8-point lead with 28.8 remaining.
That lead would finally stick.
"Three nights ago, we made timely shots," Sixers coach Tony DiLeao said. "Tonight, we had some opportunities to make some big shots and then we didn't."
The 18-point lead the Magic lost in the opener was the biggest lead they blew all season, topping the loss on Halloween night to Memphis when they were ahead by 15 points. The Magic improved to 21-4 this season in games after a loss.
Philadelphia now heads home in the same position as a year ago, when it lost to a heavily favored Detroit team in six games.
The Sixers started right where they left off Game 1.
Miller made six of his first seven shots and scored 13 points in the first quarter, silencing the white-towel waving Magic fans early. He converted a three-point play after a foul on Howard to put the Sixers ahead 17-10.
Then the Magic began to roll.
Orlando ran off nine straight points, capped by a two-hand dunk by Howard on a fast-break pass zipped down the middle from Anthony Johnson. The Sixers started to lose their cool during the Magic's run.
Samuel Dalembert was whistled for a technical foul for arguing after he was called for a foul on Howard. Theo Ratliff was called for a breakaway foul on Lee, and Turkoglu made a pair of free throws after Iguodala reached in on his shot attempt.
The result was a 9-3 run that gave Orlando a nine-point lead.
- Lee's previous career high was 22 points against New York on March 23.
- Howard showed no effects after being inadvertently scratched in the eyes by Dalembert in Game 1.
- Philadelphia has not won a playoff series since beating New Orleans in the first round in 2003.
- Tiger Woods was again at his courtside seat across from the Sixers' bench. Woods is a central Florida resident and usually only attends the biggest Magic games.