"We didn't play with good enough energy like we needed to, so we really had to grind it out," he said. "We weren't focused at the beginning of the game. I talked to my guys and told them we've got to kick it up. We're playing for something right now."
Howard scored 21 points and tied a season high with 23 rebounds, helping the Magic beat the Atlanta Hawks 88-82 on Saturday night to pull within a half-game of tying for second place in the Eastern Conference.
The 6-foot-11 center's performance marked the ninth time this season, and 23rd of his five-year career, that he's had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game.
Coming off a blowout home victory over East-leading Cleveland on Friday, the Magic have won of two straight, eight of nine and 11 of 13. They are four games behind the Cavaliers and trail the second-place Celtics by percentage points.
"Our approach to the game was really different than it was last night," Howard said. "For us to be a great team, we can't do that. If we want to be a championship team, every night has to be the same energy and effort."
Joe Johnson scored 21 points for the Hawks, who have dropped three straight and six of eight. Atlanta dropped to 29-10 at home, where it has lost three of four.
A pair of free throws by Johnson gave Atlanta its biggest lead at 57-47 at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter.
"I thought we gave ourselves a pretty good lead," Johnson said. "We got a little complacent. We let fatigue become a factor. They made a run, and we never got back in the game."
Howard hit two free throws with 2:32 remaining for a 13-point lead, Orlando's biggest.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was proud his team kept its concentration high after beating Cleveland so convincingly, but with two days off before two sets of back-to-back games by next Saturday, he's unwilling to look ahead to the postseason.
"Look, it's going to be one opponent and it's going to be two weeks of basketball," Van Gundy said. "Anything can happen. Anything that's in the playoffs is good enough if they hit a run where they're really playing well. I don't think anyone expected the Celtics-Hawks series last year to be what it was, but the Hawks hit a stretch where they were playing great. That can happen to anybody."
Atlanta never led after Lewis hit a 16-footer in the final seconds of the third. Next for the Hawks are games Tuesday in Houston and Wednesday against Memphis.
The Rockets are looking ahead to the playoffs, but the Grizzlies have been eliminated despite beating Dallas on Friday.
"Those teams are not going to lie down and say, 'Here, Atlanta, you can have it," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "That's the positive behind tonight's loss. We're still in the driver's seat."
On consecutive possessions midway through the third, Howard and Smith took turns blocking each other's shots. ... Woodson indicated F Marvin Williams has shown no signs he'll be able to return to the lineup after missing the last 14 games with a lower back injury. ... Orlando, which began the game with the NBA's third-best defense in defending 3-pointers, held the Hawks to just 3-for-19 beyond the arc, including a combined 3-for-15 by Johnson and Mike Bibby. Offensively, the Magic hit just nine of 30 attempts on 3s. Lewis and Courtney Lee combined to go 4-for-13.