"Just throw it up, and I'll go get it," Howard told his teammate.
Howard made good on his promise, putting back Nelson's airball to give the Magic a 100-99 win Saturday night, the final basket among Howard's season-high 32 points. He also had 11 rebounds.
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Nelson sent his shot high to get over the Wizards' shot-blocker JaVale McGee, who had come out to contest the jumper. The ball came down short of the rim, but Howard pulled in the rebound and then banked it in to give Orlando the lead with 4.3 seconds left.
"When he threw it up, I knew I didn't have a chance to come back down and try to go back up because they were going to foul right away," Howard said. "So I just tried to shoot it off the glass as quick as possible."
Gilbert Arenas had a chance for a game-winner of his own at the buzzer, but his floater hit the back of the rim and bounced away. Arenas scored a season-high 31 points, including Washington's final nine points over the final four minutes, but on the last shot Howard was once again right in the middle of the play.
"Once I saw Dwight step over, I floated it up a little bit, and it was a little too hard," Arenas said. "I felt it was going to go in."
Quentin Richardson scored 20 for the Magic, who have won seven of their last eight games in Washington.
"It was definitely a hard fought victory with a young team that played really well," Richardson said. "We just fought and fought."
Arenas had given Washington a 99-98 lead with 13.2 seconds to play with a jumper in the lane, a lead erased by Howard's late score.
"That's what they do," Arenas said. "If Jameer doesn't have a good shot, he's going to shoot it anyway just so Dwight can get that rebound."
Nick Young scored 21 points, and Andray Blatche scored 10 points and had 13 rebounds for the Wizards, who ended a three-game home winning streak despite nearly coming back after trailing by double digits.
Washington was playing without rookie guard John Wall, who missed the game with a bruised right knee. Wall, who leads the team in points (18.0 per game) and assists (9.1), had missed four straight games with a sprained left foot before playing in Washington's previous two contests.
In Wall's absence, Arenas and Young each carried the offense for stretches as Washington came back after trailing by double-digits.
Orlando led by as many as 14 in the first half and were up by 12 early in the third quarter when Washington started its comeback attempt, led by Arenas. The Wizards went on a 15-2 run, with nine of the points coming from Arenas, to take their first lead of the game 64-63 with five minutes left in the period. Young sparked another run for the Wizards, scoring 14 of Washington's first 15 points in the fourth quarter.
"Every big game or TV game, we always seem to get embarrassed," Young said. "Tonight we didn't want to do that in front of our fans."
Howard, however, made sure the Wizards' comeback attempt fell short.
"He was obviously tremendous tonight. I don't think there's anybody in the NBA playing better basketball than he is," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We are only 16 games into the year now, but if you stopped it right now and he isn't the MVP right now, something is seriously wrong."
- Wizards C Yi Jianlian (knee) missed his seventh straight game and F Al Thornton (ankle) his second.
- Saunders said F Josh Howard, who is recovering from knee surgery, is still weeks away from returning.
- Magic F Vince Carter missed his third straight game with a sprained left knee.
- Van Gundy was asked about Lakers coach Phil Jackson's qualified apology after a series of back-and-forth comments. Jackson initially commented about the possibility of Pat Riley replacing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, calling it the "Van Gundy situation." Van Gundy said Jackson showed ignorance of his situation with the Heat, and Friday, Jackson apologized while saying it was unfortunate. Van Gundy was "defensive." "I'm not looking to get into any war of words with Phil Jackson," Van Gundy said. "He simply made a comment about my situation that he had no knowledge of. That's all I meant to say."