ATLANTA -- For three quarters, Orlando hardly missed. In the final period, nothing seemed to go.
Fortunately for the Magic, they had enough of a lead to hold off the Atlanta Hawks.
Putting on a show for the home folks, Dwight Howard had 23 points and 19 rebounds as Orlando preserved a 106-102 victory Wednesday night in a matchup of the top two teams in the Southeast Division.
Orlando nearly squandered a 21-point advantage, catching a huge break when Mike Bibby missed a breakaway layup that should have made it a two-point game with just under 1 1/2 minutes remaining. The Magic went nearly 5 minutes without scoring in the final period, but the Hawks couldn't hit enough shots -- not even the easiest one of all -- to complete the comeback.
Atlanta lost for only the third time in 18 games at Philips Arena.
"We exhaled too early," said Howard, an Atlanta native who recorded his 26th double-double of the season. "We gave them a chance to come back."
Josh Smith led Atlanta with 21 points, but he missed all four of his free-throw attempts -- the worst culprit in a 14-of-25 performance at the line that came back to haunt the Hawks at the end.
The Magic stretched their lead on second-place Atlanta to five games in the first of a home-and-home between the division rivals. The teams meet again Friday night in Florida.
Orlando was dead-on through the first three quarters, shooting better than 55 percent. The Magic were really on target in the second period, finishing off a 10-of-16 display when Rashard Lewis banked in a desperation 3-pointer just ahead of the 24-second buzzer and the game clock, sending Orlando to the locker room with its biggest lead of the half at 60-45.
The Magic stretched the lead to 76-55 on Courtney Lee's 3-pointer with just over 6 minutes remaining in the third and was up 86-70 heading to the final period.
"You can't wait three quarters to decide you want to play," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "We were just awful, I thought, in the first three quarters."
Suddenly, Orlando went cold. The visitors went 5-of-16 in the final quarter and turned it over four times, giving the Hawks a shot.
Fortunately, the Magic had the guy with the "Superman" cape. As his teammates struggled, Howard scored two straight baskets -- one of them a thunderous dunk -- after pulling down offensive rebounds.
Plus, he got a chance to be home for a day.
"Sometimes I eat too much of my mama's cooking," Howard quipped. "I had a lot of family out there."
Orlando went 4:50 without scoring until Lewis hit a turnaround jumper that made it 99-92. He scored 20 points for the Magic, as did Hedo Turkoglu.
"We have to learn to put teams away," Howard said. "We can't let an Atlanta team come back like that."
Atlanta squandered too many chances to complete the comeback. Al Horford stepped on the baseline with under 2 minutes to go while trying to drive, ruining one possession, but the biggest blunder came after the Hawks knocked the ball away for what looked to be a sure basket.
Bibby took off the other way, all alone. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming up -- then clanked the lay-in that could have made it 101-99 with plenty of time remaining. Bibby also missed a late 3-pointer to seal the victory for the Magic.
"We just didn't shoot the ball well," Bibby said. "It happens. The good thing is we've got them Friday in Orlando. We let one get away here."
"They came to play in the first three quarters," Smith said, "and we were nonexistent."
Bibby scored 17 points but was only 6-of-17 from the field. Joe Johnson, the Hawks' leading scorer, was just 5-of-17 for 13 points -- matching his second-lowest output of the season.
"Tonight, they missed," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I don't anticipate they'll do that two nights in a row. When they play us Friday, it could be a tough night."
Atlanta G Acie Law wasn't at the game. Woodson said he was attending to a personal matter and could rejoin the team on Thursday. ... Hawks C Zaza Pachulia wasn't in uniform because of the flu. ... Orlando G Keith Bogans missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. ... Orlando evened the season series at 1-1, the road team winning both games. ... Horford had 13 rebounds. ... Atlanta F Marvin Williams, coming back after missing a game with a sprained shoulder, scored 16 points.