Orlando Magic 116, Cleveland Cavaliers 87

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Without getting too overdramatic or hyperbolic, can anyone remember a pair of regular-season Magic victories that created more buzz and gained more national attention than the wins over the Celtics last Wednesday and the Cavaliers tonight? After dismantling, embarassing and emasculating the Cavaliers on national TV, can anyone still consider the Magic a notch below the Celtics, Lakers and Cavs? I couldn’t believe tonight’s game as I was watching it. The Magic’s lead grew to 41 – 41 – against the consensus favorite to win the title. A 41-point lead. And that was with LeBron James on the floor. It was the best defensive performance of the season. The Magic used a barrage of different defenders to frustrate and stymie James into a 7-of-20 performance. No other Cleveland player scored more than 10 points. The Cavs shot 36.9 percent, their lowest percentage in more than a month. The Magic’s offense was right on par. Led by Rashard Lewis’ 22 and Dwight Howard’s 20, seven Magic players scored in double figures. Rafer Alston had 10 assists. Granted, the Cavs looked a little bit tired and a little bit out of sync. There was a general lack of concentration that seemed to resonate with the Cavs. They were genuinely embarassed in the second half, and you know they’re hoping Orlando reaches the Eastern Conference finals instead of the Celtics. Three keys revisited: 1. Let LeBron shoot. Yes. LeBron made 4 of 12 field goals from outside the paint. That’s 33 percent, and the Magic will take that all day long. James didn’t do much inside, either. He was 3-for-8 from in the paint, and you can thank Dwight Howard for those statistics. 2. Jump on them early. Yes. In a players-only meeting before the game, Dwight Howard stressed for the team to warm up hard and come out ready to play. There’s no doubt the Magic did that today. The Magic jumped out to an early lead that grew steadily throughout the game. 3. Run. Yes. Orlando scored 20 fast-break points. The Cavs’ big guys – Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – struggled to keep up with the Magic when they got out on the break. Rashard Lewis hit several 3-pointers in transition. Those are killer. Key figures: 14: Assist advantage for the Magic, who distributed 28 assists compared to Cleveland’s 14. Less than half of Cleveland’s field goals were assisted, while 63 percent of Orlando’s assists came off a pass. 17: Points scored by the Magic’s bench in the first half. The Cavs’ reserves scored two points in the opening half. The Magic can thank their reserves for helping build that early lead. 37: Third-quarter points scored by the Magic, compared to 22 for the Cavs. There’s a prominent Magic blog named after an old Magic staple – the Third Quarter Collapse – that simply isn’t there with this current team. And it’s awesome. Magic’s best: It’s difficult to pick just one, but I’m going to go with Dwight Howard for his leadership before and during the game. We’re witnessing the maturation of superstar – it’s been amazing to watch him develop from an athletic kid who could jump out the gym to an engaging superstar and national icon. And you can add winner to that title. Magic’s worst: I love Adonal Foyle, but he was the only Magic player who didn’t get on the board tonight. He grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot in 6 minutes, which is nothing to be ashamed of. But he was outshined by Tyronn Lue, who scored six points in that same stretch. Up next: The Magic don’t have much time to celebrate this win. They’re on a plane to Atlanta right now, and they’ll play the Hawks Saturday night at 7. The Hawks lost to Boston tonight. Photo: John Raoux/Associated Press