ORLANDO // The Orlando Magic rallied for a 111-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns, the home team winning a game highlighted by a physical tussle between Dwight Howard and former favourite Shaquille O'Neal. Howard scored 21 points and eight rebounds to O'Neal's 19 points and 11 rebounds, but the latter drew a technical with three and a half minutes remaining and Orlando took advantage by reeling off eight successive points to build a comfortable lead.
"I thought Dwight had a terrific second half," the Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. Howard, who like O'Neal possesses extreme confidence in his ability on the court, scored only four points in a foul-prone first half but collected 17 in the second, including two free throws after O'Neal's foul. The 23-year-old was obviously upset by O'Neal's earlier remarks that Howard was his understudy at best. "I think that Shaq was really trying to get in my head," Howard said.
"I respect my elders and I'm not going to get into a war of words with anybody. There's no need for it." Van Gundy, however, had plenty to say about O'Neal, who turns 37 on Friday. "I was shocked and very disappointed," the Magic coach said while accusing O'Neal of "flopping" a basketball term for a defensive player intentionally falling down in an attempt to draw a charging foul. "Let's stand up and play like men, and I think our guy did that tonight."
O'Neal also expressed disappointment at the Magic's strategy of double-teaming him instead of letting him and Howard go head-to-head. "I like to play people one-on-one," he said. "My whole career, I had to play people one-on-one. I not once had to double and not once asked for a double. "I'd like to show people I'm still unstoppable," he said. A six-minute cold snap by the Suns also contributed to their downfall as the Magic outscored them 33-18 in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix led 91-88 with seven minutes remaining after Jason Richardson's three-pointer, but the visitors did not score another field goal until 85 seconds were left on the clock. By then the Magic had the game under control at 105-97. Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Hedo Turkoglu added 22 points. Richardson paced visiting Phoenix with 27 points and playmaker Steve Nash had 20 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Nash had missed the previous three Suns games with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile in other action, Kobe Bryant scored 31 points in 30 minutes as the Los Angeles Lakers got back on track by ending a two-game losing run with a 99-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Chauncey Billups got a warm welcome from the home crowd on his return to the Palace of Auburn Hills but the Detroit Pistons were far less generous as they beat the Denver Nuggets 100-95. Billups scored a season-high 34 points on his first visit to the Palace after six years as a Piston, but Tayshaun Prince led the home side with 23 points and Richard Hamilton added 21 for the Pistons.
* With agencies