By BRETT MARTEL
Dwight Howard sat calmly in his locker and spoke softly, but with cutting tone as he ripped into his team for what he saw as a lack of effort.
“I look at guys and they don’t look like they want to play,” Howard said following Orlando’s surprisingly lopsided 93-67 loss to a New Orleans Hornets team that came into Friday night’s meeting on a nine-game skid.
“I told them at halftime, `If you don’t want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don’t make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us.’”
Howard had 28 points and 16 rebounds, but was the only player in double figures in any statistic for the Magic, who continued to slump after blowing a 27-point lead to Boston a night earlier. Starting with the third quarter against the Celtics, the Magic have now gone six straight quarters without scoring 20 points in any of them.
“It hurts to get out there and you play your hardest and you expect everybody to play the same way, and I’m not calling anybody out by no means because we all have to get better … but if you don’t want to be out there, don’t dress up,” Howard said. “If you don’t want to play, stay home. People work too hard. I want to win a championship. I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard. …
“None of the – whatever, trade stuff – none of that stuff matters. Play basketball. That’s why we all get paid to do this, because we love the game and it’s basketball, so why not give it your all?”
Carl Landry led New Orleans with 17 points, while Marco Belinelli added 15 points and Jason Smith 14. Jarrett Jack added 11 points and nine assists for New Orleans, which won for only the fourth time this season against 15 losses.
“Any time you hold team like that to 67 points, you get excited about the fight and character of our team,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “I hope our fans understand this transition hasn’t been easy. We have a ways to go … but when I’m in that locker room, in those huddles and the guys are supporting one another, out there fighting for each other, the way they played tonight, it makes the prospects for the future of our organization look bright.”
The Hornets won without 7-foot center Chris Kaman, who was asked to stay home while the team tries to trade him, general manager Dell Demps said.
Orlando shot only 39 percent (24 of 61) and turned the ball over 23 times, the most by any Hornets opponent this season. New Orleans converted those turnovers into 28 points.
“They killed us because they just played hard and they wanted it,” Howard said. “Look at their roster, but they play hard every night. … They kicked our butts tonight, not because they’re a way better team than us, but because they play harder than us.”
The Magic played most of the game without Jameer Nelson, who was limited to less than 11 minutes after taking a shot in the jaw in a collision with Jack as the Hornets guard drove to the hoop. Nelson said later he was not seriously hurt and was day to day.
The lone bright spot for the Magic was the one player who apparently would rather play elsewhere, given the constant trade speculation surrounding Orlando’s star center, who memorably wore a Superman cape while winning the 2008 All-Star dunk contest in the same arena.
Howard was 9 of 14 shooting and got to the free-throw line 17 times, although he made only 10 foul shots. The rest of his team combined to go three of four from the foul line and 15 of 47 shooting (32 percent).
After starting 11-4, Orlando has lost three of four, including two losses to the Celtics, one of which ended with the Magic scoring a season-low 56 points.
“We were awful. The three worst losses I think we’ve had since I’ve been here and it’s in the matter of five days. It’s tough to take,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s very, very bad right now. It’s a matter of energy and we don’t seem to conjure that up right now.”
The Hornets, by contrast, shot nearly 51 percent (41 of 81) and outrebounded Orlando 43-36 while turning the ball over a relatively low 13 times.
The Hornets led by 13 at halftime and then scored the first seven points of the third quarter, starting with Trevor Ariza‘s driving layup and ending with Belinelli’s third of four 3-pointers in the game to give the Hornets a 54-34 lead.
The gap never got smaller than 14 points after that and climbed to 28 – the largest lead the Hornets have held in any game this season.
The Hornets took their first lead on Belinelli’s 3 six minutes into the game and did not trail again. Landry’s 13-foot jumper capped an 11-2 run that gave New Orleans a lead as large as nine, at 20-11, in the first quarter.
“We were making sure they didn’t come out and have a ton of energy after that Boston game,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure that we came out and had the first punch and not get hit first and be clawing back and try to dig ourselves out of a hole.”
Notes: The lineups of the two teams included four players born in Louisiana: Davis, Chris Duhon and Von Wafer for Orlando and Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson for New Orleans. … Actor Will Ferrell, who is in New Orleans to film the political comedy “Dog Fight” and will be the featured celebrity guest in the Bacchus Mardi Gras parade next month, sat courtside with fellow comedian Jason Sudeikis. They were part of an announced crowd of 16,176.