Jameer Nelson converted a go-ahead three-point play with 33 seconds left, leading Howard and the Magic to a 90-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.
"It was huge," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We made our free throws down the stretch. It was a very difficult win and a very tough loss for them because I thought both teams played very, very hard and fought very, very hard."
Howard scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half, helping Orlando recover from a 52-49 halftime deficit. Rashard Lewis made five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points.
Howard had three fouls by halftime but made an adjustment during the break to help him stay on the floor.
"I think the first half, my foul trouble was stupid," he said. "Reaching instead of going for blocks, just throwing people out of the way. That's stuff that I shouldn't be doing and I think in the second half, I tried to beat them down the court and force them to foul me."
Van Gundy said Howard turned the whole game around.
"He had a tough first half," Van Gundy said. "He was in foul trouble, then he gets 19 and 10 in the second half and had a couple of big blocks."
The Magic trailed 86-85 when Nelson was fouled by T.J. Ford on a 10-foot jumper and converted the resulting free throw. Vince Carter made two key foul shots to help Orlando hold on, and Danny Granger and James Posey missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds for the Pacers.
Howard also had 12 rebounds and blocked three shots for Orlando, which limited Indiana to 34 points in the second half. Nelson finished with 11 points and nine assists.
"We've been a pretty good road team over the years since I've been here, especially since Stan's been here," Nelson said. "It's hard to go on the road because you don't have the energy coming from your fans. It's good to win games with your defense and your intensity."
The Pacers had five players score in double figures but shot just 39 percent from the field. Roy Hibbert had 19 points and 10 rebounds, reserve Brandon Rush scored 14 and Granger had 13 points.
Hibbert had to deal with foul trouble in the second half.
"I have to learn to not make early fouls and get myself out of the ballgame," Hibbert said. "It's unfortunate to sit on the bench and not be able to help when I feel my teammates need me in there."
Howard made two free throws with 6:57 left to give the Magic an 82-75 lead, but the Pacers responded with an 8-1 surge. Ford had a layup and a pull-up jumper in the run.
Posey made a 3 with 45 seconds left to give the Pacers an 86-85 lead, setting the stage for Nelson's big play.
Ford and Mike Dunleavy had 10 points apiece for Indiana, which outrebounded Orlando 51-42.
"I thought our defense was significantly better in the second half," Van Gundy said "I thought we did some good things."
Lewis' tiebreaking 3-pointer with 7:23 left in the third kick-started a 14-4 run for Orlando. Carter capped the surge with a jumper that gave the Magic a 68-60 lead.
Nelson also had nine assists for the Magic, who shot 45 percent from the field.
Howard went 1 for 2 from the line with 3:58 left in the first half, tying it at 42, but the Pacers scored nine of the next 13 points. Hibbert had a rebound dunk and a hook shot in the surge.
Indiana went 11 for 19 from the free-throw line, compared to 19 for 28 for Orlando.