Magic 97, Clippers 86

Dwight Howard got birthday well-wishes from his Orlando

teammates, their Clippers opponents, the Staples Center fans – even

a referee.

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 had 25 points and 11 rebounds on his 24th birthday,

Rashard Lewis added 17 points and the Magic held off the Los

Angeles Clippers for their sixth straight victory, 97-86 Tuesday

night.

Howard also blocked seven shots and had five assists, rolling

through a standout game right from his ferocious dunk on Chris

Kaman 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 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.

Vince Carter had just 13 points – four in the final minute – for

Orlando, which broke open a tight game with a 14-2 run that

stretched into the fourth quarter.

“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 scored 21 points and Baron Davis 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 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 put the Magic in front to stay late in the period, and

Mickael Pietrus 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.