The Orlando Magic know they can count on Dwight Howard.
Maybe they can start counting on young Earl Clark.
Both of them made the Magic's 111-88 trouncing of the trade-depleted Oklahoma City Thunder possible Friday night.
Howard provided a dominant performance, scoring 40 points, collecting 15 rebounds and blocking six shots. Clark came off the bench and helped stymie Kevin Durant, the most dangerous scorer in the sport.
"Our team is looking for a defender," Clark said, "and I felt as though it was my chance to show my coach that you can put me on the best guy on the team and I can slow him down."
Add it all up, and the Magic treated the announced crowd of 19,011 inside Amway Center to one of the team's most impressive victories since New Year's. Orlando held Oklahoma City to 33.3 percent shooting from the field, one of the Thunder's least accurate shooting nights of the season.
It was exactly the kind of focused, energetic performance Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wants to see from his defense game-in and game-out.
"There's got to be a consistency to what we do," Van Gundy said. "We've got to try to be that team every night."
The Magic were that team from start to finish Friday.
The Thunder missed 11 of their first 13 shots.
Even explosive Russell Westbrook, one of the NBA's most dynamic point guards, made just seven of his 19 shot attempts and dished out only three assists.
"Their defense was smothering," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Clark helped lead the way.
Van Gundy played the second-year forward because Clark has all the physical tools to keep up with Durant, the NBA's reigning scoring champion and its leading scorer this season. Clark is 6 feet 10, has long arms and quick feet.
What Clark doesn't possess is experience.
"I just look at it as an honor just to go out there and my teammates trust me enough to guard him," Clark said. "I just wanted to go out there and make it tough for him tonight."
Clark and Hedo Turkoglu did exactly that, with help from Howard, who patrolled the lane and covered up most of his teammates' mistakes.
A 46.9 percent shooter entering the night, Durant made just seven of his 22 shot attempts against the Magic. He made just two shots from inside the foul line.
"We missed some shots," Durant said. "They came down and hit some 3s. That kind of broke our backs a little bit."
Although the Magic have plenty of good athletes, the team lacks a top-flight defender besides Howard.
Clark is a long way from becoming a defensive stopper, but Van Gundy and Howard see potential.
"There's a lot of guys in this league that score as well as he can, but there are not very many guys of his size and length that can move their feet and play defensively like he can," Van Gundy said. "That's what makes him unique."
Howard has praised Clark since Clark arrived in the blockbuster six-player trade between the Magic and Phoenix Suns on Dec. 18.
And Howard lauded him again after Friday night's final buzzer.
"I thought Earl played great," Howard said.
"He's one of those guys that's going to get out there, and he might forget the plays or he might forget the rotation, but he's going to go out there and play as hard as he can on both ends of the floor. That's one thing I appreciate about him: the fact that he doesn't really care about nothing but getting the job done."
As Howard and Clark paced the defense, others chipped in on the offensive end.
Jason Richardson scored 17 points. J.J. Redick contributed 16. And Jameer Nelson provided 14, along with five assists.
The Magic moved the ball well, too.
Orlando had 26 assists as a team, with 10 of them coming from Turkoglu.
The news wasn't all good for the Magic (37-22).
Howard picked up his 15th technical foul of the season midway through the second quarter, and if the all-star center picks up another, he will receive an automatic one-game suspension from the league.
Howard earned the tech after he absorbed a foul by the Thunder's Nick Collison. Howard flailed an arm back in Collison's direction.
But Howard had his way the rest of the night.
He completely overmatched Oklahoma City (36-21) down low because the Thunder on Thursday traded away center Nenad Krstic, forward Jeff Green and a draft pick to receive center Kendrick Perkins and point guard Nate Robinson. But Perkins was scheduled to travel to Oklahoma on Friday, and with Krstic gone, the Thunder were shorthanded.
Collison couldn't slow Howard.
Neither could Serge Ibaka, who fouled out with 10:31 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Howard made 16 of his 20 shots from the field and went 8-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Van Gundy actually kept Howard in the game in its final minutes just so Howard could reach the 40-point plateau and tie his season-high for scoring — the kind of thing Van Gundy almost never does.
It was Howard's fourth consecutive game with at least 30 points, a career-long streak.
But Howard supplemented his offensive numbers with one of his most active defensive games of the season.
"Our help defense was great tonight," Howard said. "Our individual defense was great. We just need to keep it up."
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