Even so, he was still irked by what happened in the fourth quarter.
Howard's 22 points and 12 rebounds were enough to help the Orlando Magic hold off Charlie Villanueva and the Pistons 110-103 on Friday night, but the win was soured by Detroit's 35-point fourth quarter.
"We haven't played good enough defense to be a great team," Howard said. "We have to try and be great every night, and that's just not happening yet. Sometimes you have ugly games, and tonight the fourth quarter was ugly, but we still got a good win."
Villanueva scored 22 of his 28 points in the quarter, but it wasn't enough to get past the defending Eastern Conference champs, who led by 19 early and never trailed at all.
"Charlie was great. He gave us a chance in the fourth, but you can't rely on one guy to try and bring you back," Ben Gordon said. "We dug ourselves a hole and just couldn't get over the hump."
Three nights after fouling out with eight points in 17 minutes, Howard was nearly perfect. He made 7-of-8 field goals and 8-of-9 free throws and didn't commit a foul until after halftime.
Orlando had lost 20 of 25 regular-season games to the Pistons, including one earlier in the week.
The closest Detroit came on Friday night was 96-90 after a shot by Villanueva with about three minutes to play.
Rodney Stuckey scored 20 points and Gordon finished with 19 for the Pistons.
"We're not playing smart enough. We didn't play enough defense and for too many minutes we were just hanging on to win a regular-season game," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We aren't making the push to be great. I don't know if we will. We'll have to see."
The Magic were already without Vince Carter (sprained left ankle) and Rashard Lewis (10-game suspension) before losing starting power forward Ryan Anderson to a sprained right ankle in the third quarter. ... Detroit was without starters Rip Hamilton (right ankle sprain) and Tayshaun Prince (lower back strain). ... The Magic shot 30-of-35 overall from the line. ... The Pistons were staying at a downtown hotel less than mile from where a gunman opened fire and killed one person and wounded five others late Friday morning, causing a shutdown of city streets during a search for the assailant. They had to detour returning to the team hotel after the morning practice.