Dwight Howard scored 25 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, while Jameer Nelson scored 28 points to lead the Orlando Magic past the Los Angeles Lakers 109-103 on Friday in a showdown of NBA pace-setters.
Nelson scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including 10 of the team’s last 13 points to overcome the heroics of Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant, who had 28 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for his 15th career “triple double.”
But Bryant connected on only 3-of-12 shots in the fourth quarter, missing his last six attempts from the field, including a potential game-tying 3-point shot with the Lakers down 106-103.
The Magic won their sixth game in a row and improved to 32-8, second only to Cleveland (31-7) in the NBA, while the Lakers slid to 31-8, still the best mark in the Western Conference and third-best in the NBA.
Orlando has risen to a title contender behind center Howard, who helped the Magic sweep the Lakers for the season for the first time in team history. Orlando, a league-best 15-5 on the road, also swept San Antonio this season.
With 15 of 19 lead changes coming in the fourth quarter alone, Nelson hit the key basket, connecting on a 3-pointer from the left side to give Orlando a 104-103 with 35 seconds remaining.
Spaniard Pau Gasol, who scored 13 points, had given the Lakers a 103-101 lead with a layup with 54 seconds to play.
Rashard Lewis added 16 points for Orlando, which went 12-of-28 from 3-point range in the first game after setting an NBA record 23 3-pointers at Sacramento.
Laker reserve Lamar Odom had 17 points and nine rebounds.
CAVALIERS 92, HORNETS 78
In Cleveland, Ohio, LeBron James scored 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, powering the Cleveland Cavaliers past New Orleans in an NBA showcase matchup.
Despite a nagging cold, James led all scorers and added game-highs of 14 rebounds and seven assists as well to boost the Cavaliers’ home record this season to 20-0, only the sixth such home start in the last 32 NBA seasons.
“LeBron was a monster on the boards,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “It was a good win against a very good team.”
James went 6-for-10 from the field in the last quarter as Cleveland improved to 31-7, best in the Eastern Conference and the best start in team history.
“King James” passed off the credit to his teammates as easily as he tossed them the ball when necessary.
“We’re just a hard-working team,” James said. “Being as close as we are off the court really helps that. That makes the game a lot easier when you’re really close with your teammates.”
The 24-year-old playmaker, last season’s NBA scoring champion and a top candidate for Most Valuable Player honors this season, bounced back from an eight-turnover, 8-of-28 shooting effort in an over-time loss on Thursday at Chicago.
Sasha Pavlovic scored 19 points and Mo Williams added 17 for the Cavaliers, who will be without guard Delonte West for about six weeks after he was found to have a broken right wrist suffered in Thursday’s loss.
That will hamper the Cavaliers as they leave for a West Coast road swing that includes another showcase game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the best of the Western Conference in what could be an NBA Finals preview.
JAZZ 101, GRIZZLIES 91
In Memphis, the Grizzlies lost to Utah, but delivered a blow to the Portland Trail Blazers right in the NBA salary cap by playing reserve Darius Miles for 14 minutes.