Dwight Howard out-muscled Shaquille O’Neal on Sunday as the Orlando Magic notched a 101-95 victory over Cleveland that marked the Cavaliers’ first three-game losing streak in two years.
Howard scored 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had four blocks for Orlando. Vince Carter added eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to help the Magic beat the Cavs for the first time this season.
Prior to their skid, the Cavaliers had reeled off 13 victories in a row.
O’Neal made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points, and LeBron James had 33 points and nine rebounds for Cleveland, who were ousted by Orlando in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
The showdown between Howard and O’Neal — in the wake of a tiff over the “Superman” nickname — lived up to its billing.
O’Neal has been known as the comic book superhero for much of his 17-year NBA career, and he had taken exception to Howard assuming the same nickname.
In addition, Howard has helped Orlando fans forget O’Neal — who spent four years there in the 1990s — as he has led the Magic back to contender status. Their match-up didn’t disappoint.
In the first quarter, O’Neal seized a rebound and caught Howard under the basket, hammering a powerful one-handed dunk over his young rival.
Shaq added a put-back dunk, an alley-oop tip-in and a three-point play over Howard — all before the half ended.
Howard, meanwhile, was able to get around O’Neal, slashing past him for layups and hook shots.
In the waning minutes, however, others took center stage, and it was Rashard Lewis’ three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining that sealed Orlando’s victory.
NUGGETS 114, CELTICS 105
J.R. Smith scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as Denver blew a big lead but still held off Boston on Sunday.
Chauncey Billups had 26 points and Carmelo Anthony had 23 for the Nuggets, who avoided back-to-back defeats with the victory over the league’s top road team.
Anthony surpassed 12,000 career points on his first basket, an 18-foot jump shot less than four minutes into the game.
He now has 12,022 points and is the third-leading scorer in club history.
Ray Allen had 25 points and Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Marquis Daniels added 15 points apiece for Boston, who lost for the first time in their last four road games.
Boston are still a league-leading 20-10 away from home.
Boston — who trailed by 20 points late in the first quarter — erased the deficit to tie the game in the third.
Smith nailed four three-pointers in the fourth as the Nuggets held on for the victory.
Denver improved to 4-0 against the top three Eastern Conference teams. They have beaten Cleveland twice, and Orlando and Boston once each so far this campaign.
THUNDER 109, TIMBERWOLVES 107
At Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kevin Durant scored 32 points to extend his streak of games with at least 25 points to 28 as Oklahoma City edged Minnesota for their ninth straight win.
In other NBA action, it was:
● Jazz 93, Trail Blazers 89, OT
● Pistons 109, Spurs 101, OT
● Grizzlies 104, Nets 94
● Warriors 108, Hawks 104
● Suns 104, Kings 88
● Hornets 102, Rockets 94