Howard powers Magic over Cavaliers 97-86

By Tom Withers

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 9:10 p.m. MDT

Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, left, watches as Magic's Jameer Nelson (14) puts pressure on Cleveland Cavaliers' Daniel Gibson (1) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 21, 2011, in Cleveland. The Magic won 97-86.

Tony Dejak, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Hard as he tried, Stan Van Gundy just couldn't bring himself to enjoy Orlando's win.

The hard-to-please Magic coach was in one of those foul moods.

Van Grumpy.

Dwight Howard scored 28 points with 18 rebounds and he and Brandon Bass were way too much for Cleveland's smallish frontline to handle as the Magic rolled to a 97-86 win Monday night over the Cavaliers, whose fourth-quarter comeback irritated Van Gundy.

Standing in the hallway outside Orlando's locker room, Van Gundy was asked what he took from the win. His answers were terse.

"Nothing," he said. "We got a win and that's what we take from it. We got a win, and we're moving on. This one is done."

With the Cavs unable to stop Howard near the basket, the Magic built a 15-point lead in the first quarter and were up by 26 late in the third. However, Cleveland fought back and closed within 92-83 before Hedo Turkoglu's 3-pointer with 2:56 left put Orlando back in control.

The Magic won their third straight and pulled within 3½ games of Miami for the No. 3 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

That was of little value to Van Gundy, who was upset with his team's 20 turnovers and inability to put Cleveland away.

"You only play 82 games a year," Van Gundy said. "It shouldn't be hard to go out and play hard and well all the time. We've seen ebbs and flows, but I don't have an excuse for it. We turned the ball over too much and we didn't play with a lot of energy."

The Magic swept all four games against the Cavaliers, winning the season series for the first time since 2002-03. The teams met each other in the playoffs in 2009, a tight series Orlando won in six games. Their feud figured to continue, but it dissolved the moment LeBron James left Cleveland.

Fierce rivals just a year ago, Orlando and Cleveland are now on opposite ends of the NBA spectrum.

"It is different now," Howard said. "It's weird."

J.J. Hickson scored 18 and Daniel Gibson 16 for the Cavs, who have dropped three straight and nine of 11.

Bass added 22 points for Orlando, and combined with Howard to go 18 of 21 from the floor against a Cavs team lacking a legitimate inside game.

Howard added four assists, four blocks, four steals and the All-Star center went a shocking 10 of 12 from the free throw line. He's made only 58 percent of his foul shots this season. Following the game, Howard handed fans his sneakers and arm sleeves and tossed his jersey into the crowd.

"He's a great player," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "His flaw is obviously from the line but he is athletic, strong, big and fast. He's dominant."

When Howard went out with 1:49 left in the third, the Magic were up by 22 and even Van Gundy seemed somewhat pleased. Howard slapped hands with Orlando's assistant coaches and it appeared his night was over early. But Bass picked up his fifth personal and Van Gundy had to put Howard back in.

The Cavs began knocking down shots and made it interesting in the fourth. They closed within nine on Christian Eyenga's 3-pointer. But Turkoglu ended the comeback bid with his 3 from deep in the left corner.

While Van Gundy was unhappy, Howard believes the Magic are in a good place.

"We're a team that's headed toward making a great playoff run," Howard said. "We have all the talent. We've got a great team. We have to bring it every night."

At halftime, the Magic led by 18 and were on cruise control. Howard, Bass and Ryan Anderson were a combined 17 of 20 with 42 points, 19 rebounds and eight dunks.

Scott wanted his big men to be physical with Howard, and on Orlando's first possession, Samardo Samuels locked up the Magic's All-Star center with a bear hug in the middle of the lane. Samuels got away with it as Howard was called for 3 seconds.

Howard then had his way.

He drew five personal fouls — two on Ryan Hollins and one apiece on Samuels, Hickson and Luke Harongody — in the first quarter alone as Cleveland was forced to hack away at him or get dunked on. Howard finished the period with 12 points and nine rebounds.

"Once he sits in the paint, it's just hard to move him out," Hickson said. "With his size and athleticism, it's tough."

Notes: Browns cornerback Joe Haden sat courtside, dressed from head to toe in Cavs gear. ... Scott has been watching the NCAA tournament with keen interest. The Cavs will likely have two lottery picks — their own and one they acquired from the Clippers — in this year's draft. "I don't watch the game as a fan, I watch as a coach," he said. "I watch and go, 'He can help us.'" ... Cavs G Baron Davis missed his second game in a row with back spasms. ... Magic G J.J. Redick sat out his sixth consecutive game with a strained lower abdomen.

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