LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Orlando Magic are on a roll, and still learning.
They were inconsistent and had to rally to take a 95-88 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.
“It was a weird game, but we’ve got to learn how to close things out,” said Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who had 23 points, 22 rebounds, six blocks and four assists. “We had a big lead in the first quarter, but we let them get back in the game and we gave them a lot of confidence.
“To be a good, dominant team, we’ve got to get into that rhythm of playing hard for 48 minutes and not let teams get back in games like that,” Howard added. “The great teams do it. The Celtics, the Lakers, they play hard for 48 minutes and that’s why they’re at the top of the NBA.”
On his 23rd birthday, Howard had his second consecutive 20-20 game and third of the season, and his 17th double-double.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was impressed.
“They’re coming off a really great year, and they have a guy who obviously is the best rebounder and shot-blocker in the league. They’re surrounded by excellent 3-point shooters. They’ve got guys who can really stroke it and keep Howard spaced,” Dunleavy said.
“The more skilled he gets offensively, the better he’ll be. He’s relentless in going after blocked shots and rebounding. Offensively, when he becomes a better free throw shooter and shot-maker and starts making stuff from farther out, he has a chance to be one of the best ever.”
Howard went 7-of-16 from the floor and 9-of-18 from the free throw line.
Orlando took a big lead early, fell behind, then came back in the fourth quarter.
Baron Davis, who finished with 27 points, hit a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in the third quarter to give the Clippers a 75-66 lead, their biggest margin of the game.
Orlando moved back in front at 76-75 on Brian Cook’s 3-pointer with 9:41 left to play during a 22-2 run that began at the start of the final quarter. Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots in the period to fall behind.
“The Clippers have had a lot of these games where they’ve been right there and been ahead in the fourth, then had some trouble down the stretch,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’ve had teams that went through that, and it sort of gets in your mind a little bit, too.
“So coming out in the fourth quarter, getting that run right away and getting a lead, that puts some doubts in the mind of a team that’s struggled before.”
The win over the Clippers (4-17) improved Orlando’s record to 12-1 against teams under .500, but the Southeast Division-leading Magic are just 4-3 against teams with winning records.
“The biggest thing is winning on the road,” Howard said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve just got to get better. We’re going to start playing some tough teams pretty soon. We’ve got Portland tomorrow and they haven’t lost at home, so we’ve got to be ready.”
The Magic didn’t miss much in the opening quarter, then didn’t make much in the second as they and the Clippers reversed roles.
Orlando got out quickly, went 11-of-22 in the first 12 minutes and led 24-9 with 2:14 left in the period. Los Angeles finally starting hitting late in the quarter to finish 8-of-26 and trailed 26-19 heading into the second.
Then, sparked in the second quarter by Randolph’s 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, the Clippers made 13 of 26 shots, while the misfiring Magic went 4-of-17. Randolph’s 9-foot jumper 2:56 before halftime gave Los Angeles its first lead, at 42-41 with 2:56 remaining, and the Clippers went on to lead 48-42 at the break.
Howard had 21 points and 23 boards in a 98-89 over Oklahoma City on Friday. … The Clippers had gone 6-1 against the Magic in Los Angeles until Orlando beat them 113-106 last Jan. 9. … Los Angeles was coming off a 107-84 win at Minnesota that was the team’s most lopsided road victory since a 102-68 romp over Indiana on Nov. 10, 2004.