Howard, Magic hold off pesky ThunderDec 6, 2008 - 6:18 AM By Ben Millar PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- Before the game was even over, the Orlando Magic had already torn the nets apart.
Three quick dunks from Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis literally separated the twine in the first quarter and the Magic continued to burn through the nets from the perimeter en route to a 98-89 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Howard was outstanding early on and finished with 21 points, 23 rebounds and six blocks to help push Orlando to a perfect 11-0 record when leading after the first quarter. The Magic did major damage from 3-point range, hitting 13-of-27 from the arc.
"Dwight was terrific again," Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Our shooting came around in the second half. They were collapsing around him on pick-and-rolls and leaving us open on threes and I think we knocked down 10 out of 16 in the second half, so that was great to see. I thought our guards, all of them, played well offensively and that's what got us the win tonight."
Oklahoma City kept it surprisingly close throughout but had no answer for Howard. With the Thunder down by eight, rookie point guard Russell Westbrook had a chance to cut it to six with more than a minute remaining. However, he made the regrettable decision to challenge Howard in the paint - not once, but twice.
Westbrook got off two layup attempts on baseline drives - and both times Howard stuffed him. Hedo Turkoglu added a pair of jumpers - including a 3-pointer - over the final minute to officially seal the win.
"We should have done that from the beginning. That's one thing we have to do. When you have a lead, you've got to put teams away and we just kept letting them come back into the game," Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson said. "The NBA is a game of runs, but we didn't have a run until the end of the game. Hopefully that won't happen when we go out West."
Strong play from Orlando's bench also helped - especially during the first two quarters of play.
Tony Battie and Courtney Lee took the early spotlight together, pitching in a combined 14 points and six rebounds after 24 minutes. That made up for the early struggles of Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, as the formidable forward duo hit just three of its first 20 field-goal attempts.
"They made some tough threes in the closing minutes and that is what got them over," Westbrook said. "We will be all right. You have to learn from each loss. We will watch film tomorrow morning and learn from it."
Nelson also provided a spark, returning from a strained right hip flexor that had sidelined him for five games. He chipped in 15 points and seven assists.
"It felt good to see little Mighty Mouse out there, back to running and shooting and playing," Howard said. "Just like to see his energy and like to see his intensity."
After Wednesday's loss to Charlotte, interim Thunder head coach Scott Brooks stressed the importance of not giving up the ball so much.
In response to Brooks' guidance, the squad reduced its turnovers from 19 to 17 - not much of an improvement, but every bit helps when you're struggling as much as the Thunder have all season.
"We see ourselves getting closer, but it is tough," second-year guard Kevin Durant said. "To lose games like this like we did tonight and know we could have won is tough. I can say we are getting better and moving forward. It is tough to lose like this."
Another promising sign for Oklahoma City - which sits at the bottom of the league with an NBA-worst 2-18 record - was the play of its young talent.
Westbrook scored 19 points, Durant added 16 and 22-year-old Johan Petro chipped in 15 of his own.
On the defensive end, the Magic held their opponents to under 50 percent shooting from the field for the 18th time this season.
The Magic are now 12-2 against Eastern Conference teams on the year.
"We didn't put much into the game quite honestly, we just didn't. I was frustrated with that," Van Gundy said. "We just didn't put much into it from both an energy standpoint and a focus standpoint. We made all kinds of mental mistakes, we were making mindless turnovers. We got what we deserved."
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