LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got their revenge against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic at Amway Center on Wednesday night, with the Cavs winning 102–93.
The highly anticipated game was the first time the two teams played each other since Game six of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, where the Magic prevailed 103–90. Superman Howard scored a career high 40 points in that game, which sent the Magic to the finals.
But the Cavs had the weapon they needed this time to shut down Howard in the paint. Shaquille O’Neal—who got his start in Orlando and helped make the franchise what it is today—helped keep Howard to just 11 points. Howard racked up five personal fouls, including two in the first few minutes of the game.
“Shaq is a big presence,” LeBron said after the game. “We needed him to play tough [against Howard] and he did.”
Orlando went into Wednesday’s game 6–2 with no losses at home. The Cavs came out running though and took the lead early after back and forth scoring in the first few minutes of the first quarter. Cavs guard Mo Williams struck first blood with a field goal from the top of the key after Shaq won the tip-off against Howard.
The crowd booed when Shaq got his first possession and cheered when he missed his first attempt from the paint. Orlando’s trip to the finals last year was their first since Shaq left the team for the Lakers in 1996, so any bitterness was understandable.
With Howard out with two fouls in the first quarter, Cleveland took advantage of the gap in the paint and went to work scoring a string of layups and dunks.
The Cavs held a slender lead for most of the first quarter, finishing 35–28 with both teams struggling defensively. King James had 13 points and Mo was a red hot 4–4 in field goals. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson had 11 points.
Cleveland reached their largest lead in the half by 15 points after four minutes of the second quarter. Orlando narrowed the lead to eight at one point but Cleveland pulled it back to 15 going into half time.
Mo remained red hot with five more field goals in as many attempts in the second quarter. “Just playing basketball,” he told ESPN humbly at half time about his 100 percent completion. “It’s a big game.”
LeBron surpassed Mo’s 22 points by one with a deep three at the end of the second to pull the lead to 66–51.
Orlando’s Vince Carter opened the second half with a tough three from the side which set off a brief scoring frenzy until both teams went relatively cold as compared to the first half.
Mo finally broke his perfect game around the four-minute mark in the third when a driving jumper was tipped in by a teammate.
The Cavs extended their 15-point lead to 20 at the end of the third but Mo only had two points and LeBron five in the third quarter.
The Cavs maintained their 20-point lead for most of the fourth quarter until Orlando stepped it up with a few minutes remaining to bring the Cavs’ lead to within nine, outscoring the Cavs 26–16.
LeBron finished the night with a game high 36 points and eight rebounds and was 8–9 from the foul line. He was happy with the win but expressed a bit of frustration with the team’s overall performance this year.
“We’re still trying to find our identity both offensively and defensively,” he said. “When we come out from the beginning with a sense of urgency we are able to get the big win.”
Nets and Knicks
The New Jersey Nets have now officially had their worst start in franchise history with their eighth straight loss on Wednesday night, this time against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets lost 82–79 to the Sixers at home and were starved for fresh legs with only three players from the bench contributing minutes.
The New York Knicks also maintained their downward momentum losing 114–101 to the Atlanta Hawks at MSG. The Knicks have only won one game this season.