"We stepped up tonight and everybody played great," Howard said. "I think it was our defense that got us the lead early in the game. We forced a couple of turnovers and we were able to run and get easy buckets.
"We have to play that brand of basketball to compete for a championship. We can't fall back and have a game like Charlotte and expect to be in the same breath as Chicago and Miami."
Chicago twice overcame double-digit deficits and led 91-89 with 2:56 to play after Derrick Rose passed to Carlos Boozer for a jumper.
Orlando responded with an 8-1 run started by Jameer Nelson's lob to Howard for a vicious, two-hand dunk out of a timeout. Ryan Anderson hit a three and a pair of free throws in the decisive rally.
"There is some luck to it," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Towards the end, we had two guys laying on the ground and they don't get a basket. Our offensive rebounding down the stretch was big."
Boozer led the Bulls with 26 points. Rose added 17 points and nine assists, but shot just 6-for-22 from the field. The Bulls missed a number of layups and open three-pointers down the stretch.
"We came out kind of sluggish, got ourselves into a hole and couldn't dig ourselves out," Rose said.
Designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver hit just 1-for-7 from long range, including a misfire from the corner after defender Jason Richardson fell down, leaving him unguarded.
"I thought at least three of them were in the bottom of the bucket," Korver said. "You've got one play where everybody falls down and it goes in and out. I need to come through on those."
Richardson scored 18 points and hit four three-pointers for the Magic. Orlando hit 11 three-pointers, most of them in the early going.
"We were really moving the ball well," Anderson said. "Moving it inside and out with Dwight. Dwight did a great job passing out of double teams."
The Magic jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first quarter after a conventional three-point play finished by Howard capped an 11-point Orlando run. Orlando shot 15 for 20 and hit six three-pointers in the opening period.
The Magic still led by 15 after Howard put in a lob from Hedo Turkoglu with 1:58 to go in the first half. Howard scored 19 points before the break.
"When you get that far in the hole, you can't win like that," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That comes back on me. I have to get them ready to play. That hole should not have been there."
Center Nikola Pekovic (right foot injury) says he is ready to return to the Timberwolves lineup, just in time for tonight's game against the Lakers. Guard J.J. Barea is not expected to play because of a sprained left ankle.