Birthday boy Howard leads Magic past Clips 97-86
By the time Howard gave out his customary postgame gifts—his shoes and jersey—to the fans who waited for him after his latest dominant performance, the Magic’s star center had thrown himself quite a Hollywood birthday party.
“L.A. is a fun place to play, except when you play the Lakers,” Howard said.
Howard also blocked seven shots and had five assists, rolling through a standout game right from his ferocious dunk on Chris Kaman(notes) in the opening minutes. With his usual cool joviality, he thrilled another arena’s worth of new fans—along with his mother and father, who were along for the ride as Orlando’s remarkable road winning streak reached eight games.
“I’m not satisfied, but I think we’re getting better,” Howard said. “That’s what we want, to stay humble and not get complacent with who we are.”
The defending Eastern Conference champions looked solid in their return to the building where they lost the first two games of last summer’s NBA finals to the Lakers. Jason Williams(notes) scored 16 points while hitting four 3-pointers for the Magic, who kept pace with Boston atop the Eastern Conference with their 11th win in 12 games.
“We’ve found a way to win, whether they’re blowouts or close games,” Carter said. “In second halves, we’ve done a good job buckling down and sticking to the game plan.”
Thanks to a smooth fourth-quarter surge, the Magic set a franchise record for consecutive road wins in a single season, although the Magic won nine straight road games spanning two seasons in 2007. Halfway through a four-game road trip, Orlando will attempt to match that record Thursday night in Utah.
Eric Gordon(notes) scored 21 points and Baron Davis(notes) had 18 points and 11 assists for the Clippers, who had won five of seven before losing to the Magic for the sixth straight time. Chris Kaman scored 16 points and Al Thornton(notes) added 15 for the Clippers, who have beaten just two teams with winning records this season.
“We had a hard time adjusting to the way they played, and that made a difference on our offense,” Gordon said. “I tried to get open to give guys an option.”
Orlando had its biggest offensive game of the season last Saturday night at Golden State, while the Clippers had their best defensive game of the year against Indiana. The Magic’s success carried over more easily, with Orlando opening this game with a remarkable two-man offensive barrage from Howard and Lewis.
Howard made his first five shots, barreling past Kaman for more than one embarrassing dunk, while Lewis hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions midway through the period, drawing appreciative oohs from Clippers fans. Los Angeles resorted to fouling Howard at every opportunity midway through the game, but he made 11 of 15 free throws.
“If he was shooting free throws like he normally does, we would have been in the game,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “Obviously, the big difference in the game was shooting ability. They shot the ball really well, and made us pay for our mistakes.”
Williams also hit three 3-pointers in the opening period to put Orlando up by 10, yet the Clippers kept it close with balanced scoring while forcing turnovers. Los Angeles took its first lead by scoring nine straight points in the third quarter, but Anthony Johnson(notes) put the Magic in front to stay late in the period, and Mickael Pietrus(notes) made a desperate 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left as part of the decisive run.
NOTES: Williams was booed every time he touched the ball by the savvier Clippers fans who remembered the point guard signing as a free agent with the Clippers in summer 2008, only to retire abruptly—and then attempt to return to the league with another team midway through last season. … The Clippers held Indiana to 72 points last Saturday night. Orlando had 73 after three quarters. … San Francisco Giants left-hander Barry Zito attended the game. He lives in Los Angeles in the offseason.