- James' OT buzzer-beater gives Heat win
- Krzyzewski returning to US Olympic team
- Parker getting precautionary MRI on calf
- Spurs not taking 2-0 lead for granted
- Cavaliers win NBA draft lottery again
By BRETT HUSTON
(AP) -- Dwight Howard ripped into his Orlando teammates after a 26-point loss late last week, but offered reassuring words about the Magic's confidence level following their fourth consecutive dreadful defeat.
He might not be so kind if that skid gets to five.
Howard and the increasingly dysfunctional Magic hope to begin turning things around Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, who have lost 47 of 51 on the road and seven straight to Orlando.
A stretch of 10 wins in 12 games following a season-opening loss couldn't seem much more distant for the Magic (12-9), who have since dropped six of eight - often in embarrassing fashion.
Putting up 56 points in a Jan. 23 loss to Boston was bad enough, but Orlando managed to surpass that disappointment by blowing a 27-point lead in a rematch with the Celtics three days later.
Howard had seen enough after Friday's 93-67 loss in New Orleans - his exact words were, "I look at guys and they don't look like they want to play" - but the Magic hardly responded, losing by 21 at home to Indiana two days later. It was more of the same Monday in Philadelphia, where Orlando was behind by 19 late in the fourth quarter before a late surge cut the final to 74-69.
This time, though, Howard took a gentler approach.
"We're still a great basketball team, we're just going through a tough stretch. That's it," said Howard, who continues to address trade rumors and reportedly has a four-team list of preferred destinations. "There's no need for us to complain or point the finger or for anybody to panic. We're going to be fine."
Though Howard was pointing the finger just three days earlier, he defended those actions.
"As a leader, you've got to do things that people don't like. People hate what they don't understand," Howard said. "My teammates understand why I said what I said. They all agree."
While that may be the case, little progress is being made on the court. Aside from the three-time NBA defensive player of the year, the Magic are shooting 35.6 percent and averaging 57.5 points in their last six games.
The absence of point guard Jameer Nelson the past two contests hasn't helped Orlando's offense, though Nelson was averaging just 6.8 points and shooting 30.0 percent in his previous six games before suffering a jaw injury that's likely to sideline him at least three more games.
To coach Stan Van Gundy, though, Orlando's struggles boil down to one ingredient.
"They are going through a tough time, and of course confidence is a huge part of that," Van Gundy said. "But how do you get that back? Well, you push through it, and you have a good game and then you get it back."
The Magic should have the perfect chance to do so against the Wizards (4-17), who are 4-47 away from the Verizon Center since April 12, 2010.
Washington is 2-2 since Randy Wittman took over for the fired Flip Saunders, but both of those victories came against the last-place Bobcats - including the team's first road win this season, 102-99 on Saturday.
After shooting a season-best 52.6 percent at Charlotte, the Wizards fell back to 40.2 percent Monday in a 98-88 loss to Chicago.
Washington has dropped seven straight to the Magic - six by double digits - and the series has been especially uncompetitive in Orlando. The Wizards' four consecutive losses in central Florida have come by an average of 24.8 points.
Howard has shot 77.8 percent (70 of 90) and averaged 26.0 points during Orlando's overall winning streak against Washington.
Updated January 31, 2012