for this game

Magic catch fire late, race past Cavaliers

Jan 30, 2009 - 4:52 AM By Zach Chalifour PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- It looked like a classic battle between two of the league's best teams, destined to go down to the wire. Instead, Thursday's showdown between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers devolved into a laugher.

The Magic unleashed their most dangerous weapon - perimeter shooting - in the fourth quarter, seizing control and running away with a 99-88 victory over the high-powered Cavs. Newly elected All-Stars Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson combined for 37 points and Dwight Howard posted his league-leading 35th double-double to deal Cleveland just its ninth setback of the season.

After taking a seven-point edge at the end of the third quarter, the Magic poured it on in the final session. Mickael Pietrus kicked off a 20-2 run with a layup and Anthony Johnson and Lewis followed with back-to-back 3-pointers on the next two possessions as Orlando opened up a decisive advantage.

"Our defense wasn't the greatest last game, but we did a good job contesting their shots, and trying to take away what they do well," Howard said.

Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Nelson each connected from the arc later in the period and Nelson capped the spurt with a lay-in to extend the Magic's lead to 99-74, all but putting the game on ice. Perhaps the fourth-quarter surge was merely a product of the good cheer felt around the clubhouse, as Lewis and Nelson were both named to the All-Star team earlier in the day.

"You're essentially playing against four NBA All-Stars," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "You can get in a lot of trouble if you have even just a quick slump on offense."

The honor may have meant the most to Nelson, who was chosen to play in the All-Star game for the first time in his career.

"I like this game so much; it's a great honor," Nelson said. "We believe in each other, and it's been my teammates who put me in the situations to be successful like I have been."

Lewis was just as happy to see the five-year veteran Nelson selected.

"I've been to the All-Star Game before, but it was nice to see Jameer selected," Lewis said. "I thought I was a long shot, but the one thing I wanted to see was Jameer make the team."

It certainly showed in their respective performances in this one. Lewis scored 19 points and Nelson added 18, while superstar center Howard - who will join those two in Phoenix next weekend - paved the way with 22 points and 18 boards as the Magic won the first round of a possible playoff preview for the two Eastern Conference heavyweights.

Meanwhile, fellow All-Star starter LeBron James led Cleveland with 23 points, but never could get into an offensive rhythm the entire game, finishing at just 10-of-27 (37 percent) from the field.

"We missed a lot of easy shots that we should have made," James said. "They did a good job contesting the shots and playing good defense, but we didn't hit the shots when we should have."

"No one in the league can guard LeBron," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "You're just trying to contain him. You have to not let it get easy for him; we did that and got lucky that he missed some shots."

Wally Szczerbiak flanked James with a 14-point effort - all in the first half - on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, including three 3-pointers.

Despite the final score, the Magic did avoid what was shaping up to be an early letdown.

The Cavs started strong and opened up a 53-43 lead with 3:01 to play in the second quarter, but the Magic finished the period on a 12-3 run to cut Cleveland's lead to a single point heading into the second half.

Orlando started the third quarter with a 7-0 run and never relinquished control.

"It was a good day for the Magic," Van Gundy said. "When you get two more players selected to the All-Star Game, play a great game like we did and beat the best time in the league, it's a pretty good day."

The game was such a blowout that the Magic didn't score for the final 5:20 of play, but came away with a double-digit triumph nonetheless.

Turkoglu posted a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double of his own for the Magic, and J.J. Hickson and Mo Williams scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, to join James in double-figures for the Cavs.