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ORLANDO 97, CLIPPERS 86

Dwight Howard blows out the Clippers

Magic center has 25 points and 11 rebounds on his 24th birthday

December 09, 2009|By Ben Bolch | On The Clippers

With temperatures dipping into unusually chilly territory, there was nothing like a game against the Clippers to make the Orlando Magic feel all warm and fuzzy.

Orlando big man Dwight Howard and a bevy of outside shooters met little resistance in the early going Tuesday night at Staples Center before the Clippers employed a hack-a-Howard strategy in the second half.

Neither method proved particularly effective.

Howard, on his 24th birthday, made his first five shots and then made repeated trips to the foul line on the way to 25 points during the Magic's 97-86 victory.

All told, Howard attempted 13 of his 15 free throws in the second half, making 11 overall. He was making only 57.3% before the game.

"If he gets you in a bad way, you're going to put him on the free throw line," Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We know he can dunk the ball and finish that way. You'd be better to take your chances putting him on the free throw line."

It almost seemed like a predictable outcome for the Southeast Division-leading Magic, who have won six games in a row against the Clippers and have not lost to them in a little more than three years. The Magic has also won eight in a row on the road overall.

That's not to say the game lacked for some second-half drama.

After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, the Clippers charged back to take their first lead with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter on Baron Davis basket that drew a goaltending call against Howard.

It didn't last.

The Magic pulled away after the Clippers went more than 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal, triggering alternating chants of "Fire Dunleavy!" and "We want Lucas!" -- the not-so-subtle suggestion being that the Clippers replace their head coach with assistant John Lucas.

Dunleavy didn't have many good options when it came to confronting Howard. Center Chris Kaman has been dragging at times this season because of a deficiency in vitamin D, and in the early going Tuesday he also struggled to locate his D while going against his Magic counterpart.

Howard splurged for 10 points in the game's first 5 1/2 minutes, scoring on layups and baby hooks and dunks. Then, for good measure, he blocked consecutive shots by Kaman on the other end of the floor.

"He came in and destroyed me," said Kaman, who tightened up defensively over the game's final three quarters. "He does a good job of getting position close to the basket. When he does, you know he's going to dunk it or get an easy shot, so you have to foul him."

Dunleavy had said before the game that the keys to stopping Howard were defending him in transition and sending help in the post so that "if he gets us in a bad way, you put him on the free-throw line."

The Clippers certainly did the latter.

But they couldn't defend the perimeter, surrendering 14 three-pointers. Orlando forward Rashard Lewis made three consecutive three-point shots and guard Jason Williams converted back-to-back three-pointers to give the Magic a 12-point cushion late in the first quarter.

"It was tough," said Clippers shooting guard Eric Gordon, who had a team-high 21 points. "They would go to Dwight Howard and we would double-team him and he would find someone with a wide-open shot."

The Magic shot 68.4% in the first quarter in building leads as large as 12 points. The Clippers made a charge late in the second quarter, with Rasual Butler finding Davis for an up-and-under layup in which Davis was also able to draw a foul. Davis made the resulting free throw, trimming Orlando's advantage to 53-47 at halftime.

Etc.

The three-pointer had become an endangered offensive weapon for the Clippers in recent games, but they found some success from long range against the Magic, making six of 17 attempts after making a league-low 15 three-pointers over their previous six games.

Gordon made three of seven attempts on three-pointers.

"It's definitely a positive because we hadn't been shooting that well lately," Gordon said.

Davis continued to struggle, however, making only one of four three-pointers. He has made only 10 of 39 attempts (25.6%) over his last seven games.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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