Howard stands tall as Magic drop sluggish Mavs

DALLAS (Reuters) - Dwight Howard made his presence felt with 17 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks to guide the Orlando Magic to a 97-82 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

Mickael Pietrus made all six of his three-point attempts and finished with 24 points off the bench, while Vince Carter returned from a toe injury to score 19 and help the Magic (53-22) to their third win in a row.

"I think we're starting to peak, which is good with the playoffs coming," Howard told reporters.

"I just want to win a championship and in order for us to win we have to stay consistent."

The Mavericks were playing for the second consecutive night and appeared sluggish, falling behind by seven points at halftime and 16 after three quarters.

Dirk Nowitzki had a team-high 24 points for Dallas (50-26) but was the only starter to score in double figures. Jason Terry and Jose Barea grabbed 16 points apiece from the bench.

The defeat saw Dallas fall into a tie with the Utah Jazz for the second in the Western Conference. Orlando are moving closer to clinching the second seed in the East and have won 14 of their last 16.

The Magic made 14 of 24 three-pointers and got major contributions from two players coming back from injury.

Pietrus had missed time with an ankle problem while Carter had to leave Sunday's game against Denver shortly after it started.

Dallas, who went to overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, shot just 38 percent from the field and saw a three-game winning streak come to an end.

"We don't make excuses. The schedule is the schedule," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. "Last year we caught them on a back-to-back at their place, so these things happen."

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles, editing by Peter Rutherford and Nick Mulvenney. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)