ORLANDO, Fla. - The Philadelphia 76ers did something no other team managed to do all season -- make Dwight Howard mad.
Red-eyed and beat down, the usually happy-go-lucky Orlando Magic centre said Monday he "would like to see the ball" more at the end of games and is fed up with those bashing his team's playoff toughness after they lost to the Sixers in an epic collapse.
"I hate hearing about it. It makes me mad," Howard said. "Anytime somebody talks about my team and the organization, yeah I'm going to get upset."
The Magic will need more than strong statements to get by a Philadelphia team that rallied from 18 points down to a 100-98 Game 1 win on Sunday. The Sixers not only exposed Orlando's flaws, they showed they can hang with the heavily favoured Magic.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Orlando.
"We feel like we have a great chance," said forward Andre Iguodala, whose shot with 2.2 seconds remaining gave the Sixers the win. "We just have to go out there and show people what we can do."
What they did was knock the Magic around.
Howard was inadvertently scratched in the eyes by Sixers centre Samuel Dalembert late in the third quarter. Howard said Monday he was going to get his eyes examined because he was "seeing just a whole bunch of crazy stuff" when he closed them and felt a "pulsating" sensation when they were open.
But he's not expected to miss any game time and even joked, "I used to be a boxer back in my former life, so I was used to those punches."
The rest of the game he didn't find funny.
After going for a career playoff-high 31 points and 16 rebounds, the Magic went away from Howard in the final minute, with forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis missing difficult jumpshots. Howard said the end-of-game strategy often doesn't through him because of his shaky free-throw shooting.
But he hopes the team will put the ball in his hands in the future to give him a chance.
"I would like to see the ball," Howard said, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts. "But I'm not going to complain about it."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he would evaluate his play calling but insisted players simply missed Howard when he was open.
"Rightly or wrongly, we went to what we normally do -- pick-and-rolls with (Turkoglu) and Dwight," Van Gundy said. "Looking back, we had pretty good shots out of them and Dwight was open on several rolls to the rim where we missed him."
The Sixers seemed to find the winning formula.
By double-teaming Howard for most of the fourth quarter, they essentially dared the Magic's perimeter players to shoot. Orlando missed badly, and whether a team that relies so heavily on three-pointers is built for the playoffs is a theory the Sixers are ready to test.
"We want him to score 1-on-1," Sixers guard Andre Miller said of Howard. "We've got big guys that are going to guard him. Either put him on the foul line, or just contests his shots. But the main thing is, if he's scoring, to keep everybody else from not being involved in the game."
For the second straight year, Philadelphia finds itself up 1-0 and with home-court advantage against a heavy favourite.
The sixth-seeded Sixers lost six of their last seven games coming into the playoffs but were able to put that skid in the past the same way they did a year ago, when they won Game 1 at Detroit. The Pistons eventually took the series in six games.
"With us being in this situation before, we understand how important it is to remain focused and continue to try to get better as a team," Iguodala said.
It was the biggest lead the Magic blew all season, topping the loss on Halloween night to Memphis when they were ahead by 15 points. The Magic are 20-4 this season in games after a loss and are confident that Game 1 was a fluke.
"It was a good lesson for us," Turkoglu said. "You can't go easy on anybody in the playoffs. We had a big lead. We were just cruising."