- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Howard received a one-game ban for an elbow he swung at the head of 76ers center Samuel Dalembert in Tuesday's Game 5, and like teammate Courtney Lee -- who was later felled by an unintentional Howard hit -- will be absent when the 76ers try to force a Game 7 in the teams' tight first-round series.
The Magic had been bracing for what was widely considered a certain suspension after video replays clearly showed Howard swiping at Dalembert's head.
Adding to the likelihood that Howard would receive at least a one-game ban was the fact that he was not ejected after the elbow, merely receiving a technical foul that allowed him to stay on the floor. Howard wound up totaling 24 points and a career playoff-best 24 rebounds to power Orlando to a 91-78 home win and nudge the Magic into a 3-2 series lead.
Howard's unintentional contact with Lee has left the rookie guard with a fractured sinus, which will rule him out of Game 6.
Howard will not be allowed in the building when the teams play Game 6, but the All-Star center flew with the team to Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon.
One source close to Howard told ESPN.com that the 23-year-old already was aware of the suspension before the Magic departed, but wanted to make the trip to support his teammates, who have recovered from last-second losses in Game 1 and Game 3 to move within one win of advancing.
"I'm very disappointed but I have to respect the NBA's decision," Howard said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "I didn't intend to hurt anyone. I have complete faith in my teammates that they will come out and get the job done tomorrow night."
In a radio interview Wednesday morning with WIP in Philadelphia, Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski likened the elbow to a punch.
"The rule is obvious," Stefanski said during the interview. "I contacted the league immediately after the play. ... To me there's no difference than a punch. The rule states clearly if there's an elbow thrown to the head and there's contact, then the player should be ejected. The officials said that they didn't see contact and that's why they gave him a technical foul instead of an ejection.
"I have no idea what the league will do, but to me the rule is black and white, it's clear," Stefanski continued. "What I saw was clear. I felt an elbow above the shoulders made contact on someone's head and it wasn't part of the play."
Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, said Howard would have been ejected from the game if any of the referees saw him make contact with his target. Jackson said the contact was clear-cut on replay.
"They saw the elbow thrown but they couldn't determine whether or not the elbow actually made contact with Dalembert," Jackson said. "This was an elbow that was thrown that made contact above the shoulders and by rule there's an automatic suspension."
The Magic have two natural options to replace Lee -- defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus and sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who combined to log 59 minutes after Lee departed Game 5 -- but no way to replicate what Howard, the newly minted NBA Defensive Player of the Year, gives them.
Reserve center Tony Battie shot 9-for-9 from the field against the Sixers in a regular-season game in November, but Battie has played only 24 minutes in this series and none since Game 3.
The suspension without pay will cost Howard $125,073 in salary.
The Magic, who boarded an afternoon flight for Philadelphia, announced earlier Wednesday that Lee is definitely out for Game 6 after Howard unintentionally cracked Lee in the head after trying to block a shot by Philadelphia's Willie Green. Lee's status for the rest of the playoffs has yet to be determined.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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