Cavs beat Magic 115-106 for 13th straight victory
He’d handle things himself, as he did Thursday night. Oh, and he wants his cape back.
“I don’t really consider it manning up until you play me straight up,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never doubled anybody. So you tell me who the real Superman is.”
LeBron James(notes) had 32 points and 13 assists as the Cavaliers—with a big fourth-quarter defensive effort from O’Neal—matched their franchise record by winning their 13th straight game with a 115-106 victory over the Magic.
It was a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals, and both teams are again on top of the East this year, but O’Neal, who had 10 points and six rebounds on Thursday, has made a huge difference for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are 4-0 this season against the Lakers and Magic, teams they struggled to beat a year ago.
“We swept San Antonio in the regular season (in 2007), then got to the finals and they swept us in the finals,” James said. “You want to win those games, of course. What you do in the regular season is good, but once the playoffs start, everyone is 0-0.”
O’Neal and Howard—both nicknamed “Superman”—were plagued with foul trouble most of the night, taking some of the luster off their physical battle in the post. But O’Neal kept his word by taking care of Howard by himself, while the Magic employed a consistent double team on O’Neal.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor. Just to play the game at a high level is always fun,” Howard said, downplaying his matchup with O’Neal. “It’s entertaining for the crowd. I know he caught the ball one time in the post and the crowd erupted like he was about to do a Superman dunk or something.”
Saddled with five fouls, O’Neal did not enter the fourth quarter until 7:48 remained with the game tied at 94.
Howard, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds, immediately spun around O’Neal for a dunk. The Magic didn’t score again for five minutes as James and the Cavaliers built a 105-98 advantage. O’Neal plugged up the middle during his 19 minutes on the floor, something the Cavaliers sorely needed during their battles with Orlando last season.
Howard, who has struggled with fouls in both meetings against Cleveland this season, overpowered the Cavaliers during last season’s finals, averaging 25.8 points and 13 rebounds during Orlando’s series victory in six games. In two games against O’Neal and the Cavaliers this season, Howard has averaged 15 points and nine rebounds.
“Don’t compare me to nobody,” O’Neal said, borrowing a line from Jay-Z. “I’d rather not be mentioned. I’m offended.”
O’Neal might have really been offended by Howard’s recent commercial using the “Superman” moniker, something he takes credit for creating upon entering the league. Even James acknowledged the nickname battle has stung his teammate.
“The whole Superman thing kind of bothers him,” James said. “That’s definitely his nickname.”
While O’Neal handled Howard, James again closed out another opponent late in the game, scoring seven points in the final three minutes while Orlando struggled to find the basket.
James hit a deep jumper from just inside the 3-point line to give the Cavaliers a 105-96 lead, then followed it up with a 3-pointer and another jumper to put the game out of reach. James also had eight rebounds, falling two shy of his third triple-double this season.
Orlando, playing for the fourth time in five nights, had won nine of its last 11.
“We took care of the basketball,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “I thought all our guys tried to attack and they did not just settle for the 3-point shot.”
The Cavaliers scored 52 points in the paint.
When Howard picked up his fourth foul five minutes into the third quarter, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy pulled him, something he later regretted. Most of Howard’s fouls came when O’Neal was off the floor.
“In retrospect, I should have left (Howard) in the game and played him straight through,” Van Gundy said. “That was a mistake. Down the stretch, I should have gone back to having the ball in Dwight’s hands and I didn’t. I’ll take the responsibility for that.”
Cleveland can set a record for consecutive wins next week when it hosts Denver on Thursday following the All-Star break.
NOTES: Guard Delonte West(notes) returned to Cleveland’s lineup after missing nine games with a broken left ring finger. West had eight points in 24 minutes. … Cleveland’s Leon Powe(notes) passed a number of physical tests this week and appears to be on pace to return shortly after the All-Star break. Powe had microfracture and ACL surgery on his knee over the summer. … O’Neal’s reality television show “Shaq Vs.” was picked up for another season.