Magic knock off Cavs 99-88

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Orlando Magic are looking more and more like a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Dwight Howard had 22 points and 18 rebounds, Hedo Turkoglu added 19 points and 11 rebounds, and the Magic took advantage of LeBron James’ shooting struggles to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-88 on Thursday night.

The Magic spent the first half of the season playing in the shadow of defending NBA champion Boston and the Cavaliers. A 10-point home loss to the Celtics last week might have prompted some to consider Orlando an afterthought in the East.

If so, it was probably premature, even if the Magic would prefer to stay out of the limelight.

“I hope we’re still under the radar,” said guard Jameer Nelson, who added 18 points after being added to Eastern Conference All-Star earlier in the day. “Right now, it doesn’t make a difference what people say about us a team and as individuals. We just want to reach our goals at the end of the season.”

Orlando’s goal Thursday night was to keep James from getting easy baskets, trying to get hands in his face on every shot while avoiding fouls that would send him to the free throw line.

James was 10-of-27 from the field, spending much of the night complaining to the officials. He finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. But he took only six free throws—and missed three of them.

“I’m just trying to be quiet and not say anything to the refs,” James said. “But it can get frustrating at times when you continue to just get beat up and you don’t get the attention of the refs. I just try to be quiet and hopefully they’ll call it the next time.

“But it can get frustrating because it can turn the momentum of the game and it can definitely hurt us.”

Cleveland coach Mike Brown and guard Mo Williams picked up technical fouls in the third quarter while complaining to the officials about a lack of calls. Brown even had to be restrained by an assistant while screaming at one of the referees.

“The NBA is going to make calls how they see it,” Brown said. “This was a physical game, and for a guy like that to go to the free throw line six times when he drove as much as he did, it’s sad to see.”

While the Cavs were complaining about a lack of free throws, Orlando pulled away in transition and from the 3-point line. The Magic overcame a 10-point deficit in the second quarter and turned a close game into a one-sided affair with a spree of jumpers in the fourth.

Mickael Pietrus started the spurt with a mid-range shot. Anthony Johnson and Rashard Lewis followed with consecutive 3-pointers. Lewis, who finished with 19 points, added a jumper, then Turkoglu and Nelson hit two more from behind the arc to make it a rout with 6 minutes remaining.

Turkoglu’s breakaway dunk made it 97-74 and sent many fans scattering for the exits.

Orlando finished 11-of-31 from 3-point range—most of them open shots because Cleveland double- and triple-teamed Howard down low.

“We didn’t play our the way we needed to against Boston,” Howard said. “In order for us to win, we have to plat our game. We fall into playing the other team’s game, we tend to lose. We played our game tonight. We ran, played inside-out, shot the ball with confidence, and that’s what we have to do when we play against a good team.”

The Magic gained momentum heading into halftime when they sliced a 10-point lead down to one, 56-55. They carried it out of the break, too.

Orlando scored the first seven points of the third quarter—two inside baskets by Howard and Lewis’ 3-pointer.

Cleveland looked as if it would get back in it, but James couldn’t get on track. His teammates didn’t pick up the slack, either.

Williams, trying to prove he belonged in the All-Star game over Nelson, was 4-of-15 shooting and finished with 12 points. Wally Szczerbiak scored 14 points in his first 7 minutes on the floor, but he didn’t get another bucket the rest of the way.

“We missed a lot of easy shots,” James said. “Me personally, I missed a lot of easy shots. Some teams, if you miss shots and don’t make them shots with them, they can get off to a big lead. They were able to break the lead open in the third quarter. … The momentum shifted.”

Notes

Szczerbiak made his first five shots, including three 3-pointers. His father, Walt,—who had heart surgery in November—watched from the stands. … Tiger Woods, three-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and singer Nick Lachey were among the many celebrities sitting courtside. Referee Jack Nies walked over and shook hands with Woods during a third-quarter timeout.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Cleveland
L. James LeBron James
10-27,  23 Pts
8 Rebs, 8 Assists
 Orlando
D. Howard Dwight Howard
9-15,  22 Pts
18 Rebs, 0 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists

Scoreboard

Thursday, Jan 29