The Orlando Magic schooled ’em from start to finish.
Dwight Howard outplayed Andrew Bynum. Jameer Nelson bounced back from one of the worst games of his career. And the rest of the Magic looked like they were going full-speed while Bryant’s teammates looked like they were sleepwalking.
The result: a 92-80 Orlando win over Los Angeles that might have made Shaquille O’Neal regret saying that Bynum was the NBA’s best big man.
“Tonight’s game was not about Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard,” Howard said afterward. “It was about the Magic and the Lakers, and that’s the only thing that was on my mind: getting a win.”
Howard’s quickness forced Bynum into early foul trouble, and Howard finished with 21 points and 23 rebounds.
“I don’t think he played any differently than what he’s been playing,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “These are the kind of things he’s been doing night-in and night-out.”
Knowing that the Lakers (10-7) had played the night before, the Magic (11-4) just brought more energy.
Orlando took a double-digit lead with 3:51 left in the first quarter, ballooned that advantage to 23 points late in the second and led by double digits until Jason Kapono drilled a 3-pointer with 6:l9 left in regulation.
But 16 seconds later, the Lakers’ momentum evaporated when Bryant was called for a technical foul for arguing an out-of-bounds call.
Nelson sank the ensuing free throw, and Jason Richardson took the ensuing inbounds pass and maneuvered past Bryant for an easy dunk to extend Orlando’s lead to 77-66.
After Bryant missed a long 3, Ryan Anderson hit a 3-pointer, prompting the announced crowd of 18,846 to give a standing ovation.
“I think everybody came out with great energy,” said Richardson, who played for the first time since he bruised a bone in his left knee Jan. 12. “We knew they were playing on a back-to-back and we could come out and have some energy and get up and down the court.”
Orlando had 14 fastbreak points to Los Angeles’ five.
Meanwhile, the highly anticipated matchup between Howard and Bynum never materialized.
Bynum was whistled for two personals 12 seconds apart midway through the first quarter.
Howard caused both fouls. The Magic center drove toward the hoop on both plays, and Bynum struggled to match Howard’s quickness.
Bynum left the game with 6:11 remaining in the first and returned at the start of the second. But Bynum earned his third foul just 2 minutes, 48 seconds later. He sat the rest of the quarter.
In all, Bynum logged only 26 minutes, scored 10 points and gathered 12 rebounds.
“I want to play him again just to be able to get some shots on offense,” Bynum said.
“I only got six shots tonight, so I wasn’t able to go back at him. I took myself out of the game early and was able to come back and have a decent second half.”
Howard looked like he had something to prove after O’Neal had said on TNT that Bynum was the sport’s best big man.
Howard appeared to ask Van Gundy to call plays for him on several occasions, but Howard claimed afterward that wasn’t the case.
Bryant finished with a game-high 30 points and eight assists and was the Lakers’ lone bright spot.
Whatever happened to the Lakers’ vaunted depth?
The Lakers finished the first half with only 31 points, their lowest first-half total so far this season.
The Magic won for the sixth time in seven games, and team officials hope they are proving to Howard that the franchise can win a title.
For one season, at least, they will have bragging rights over the Lakers.
If, that is, Howard isn’t traded to the Lakers before the season ends.
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