ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Dwight Howard had 22 points and 16 rebounds in a bruising battle with Shaquille O’Neal, and the Orlando Magic beat Cleveland 101-95 on Sunday for the Cavaliers’ first three-game losing streak in two years.
Cleveland’s skid comes on the heels of a 13-game win streak.
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Howard was 8-for-13 shooting and added four blocks, and Vince Carter had eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to help the Magic beat Cleveland for the first time this season.
O’Neal made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points, and LeBron James had 33 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, who were eliminated by Orlando in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The hoopla surrounding the Howard-Shaq squabble over the Superman nickname finally lived up to the billing, even though the drama in the end came on the perimeter.
Carter made a two-handed dunk over heavy traffic, and followed that with a layup over Antawn Jamison, pumping his fist to the crowd in celebration. Jameer Nelson came back with a 3-pointer to put the Magic ahead 96-88 with about 2 minutes to play.
O’Neal tipped in a missed shot, and Anthony Parker made a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to three. But after James missed a 3-pointer on Cleveland’s next possession, Rashard Lewis made a 3 — from the same spot where he sent the Game 6 clincher into overtime last year — with 20.1 seconds remaining to seal the Magic’s win.
Until the last few minutes, though, it was Superman vs. Superman.
O’Neal has been known as the comic book superhero for most of his 17-year NBA career, and he had taken exception with Howard getting the same nickname. It didn’t help that Howard has erased much of O’Neal’s shadow in Orlando — where he spent four years in the mid-90s — and has restored the Magic to prominence. The two put on quite a show.
O’Neal grabbed a rebound and caught Howard under the basket, hammering a powerful one-handed dunk over the young center in the opening quarter. Shaq added a put-back dunk, an alley-oop tip and a three-point play over Howard all before the half in the first time this season that fouls didn’t sideline the big men for significant time.
At the other end of the floor, Howard used his youth and agility to wiggle around O’Neal almost at will, slicing through the paint for layups and hook shots and making the elder center sprint down the court. Howard also banked a jumpshot from the wing and his defensive presence helped Orlando go ahead 46-35 late in the second quarter.
Then James took over, scoring Cleveland’s final 10 points of the half — the last coming on a three-point play over Matt Barnes with 1.1 seconds left — to trim the Magic’s lead to six.
After starting his Cleveland career 0 for 12 from the field, Jamison made his first shot of the game, a layup with 7:29 remaining in the first quarter. He also made the first four baskets of the second half and finished with 19 points.
But he still doesn’t know what it feels like to win with his new team.
NOTES: Gina Marie Incandela sang the national anthem, the same 7-year-old girl the Magic had perform for most of their surprising NBA finals run last season. Orlando was 7-0 when she sang until losing consecutive home games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. … Howard and O’Neal had a simple fist bump before the opening tip. … Yankees ace CC Sabathia was sitting in the front row behind one basket.