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James' Cavs fall under Magic spell

DWIGHT Howard got the better of LeBron James in their marquee matchup on Thursday, recording 22 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to a 99-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu added 19 points apiece as the Magic took the first meeting between two of the Eastern Conference's top teams.

James had 23 points but was only 10-for-27 shooting from the field. Cleveland took a 56-55 lead into halftime but managed just 32 points in the second half to lose for the first time in five contests.

"We had to tighten up the defense (in the second half)," Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson told reporters.

"LeBron was getting too many dunks in the first quarter and everything they did was really easy."

Nelson scored 18 points on the day he was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve - the first appearance of his career.

In the day's only other National Basketball Association game, San Antonio eased past Phoenix 114-104.

In Orlando, Florida, Cavaliers guard Mo Williams, who was coming off a career-high 43 points against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, scored a mere 12 points on just 4-for-15 shooting.

Cleveland is still without center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has missed 13 games with an ankle injury.

Howard scored four points during Orlando's 7-0 run to begin the second half and the Magic began the fourth quarter with a similar 10-0 spurt, leading 99-74 with 5:20 remaining.

The Southeast Division-leading Magic improved to 35-10 with the victory, and held the Cavaliers to 41 percent shooting in a strong defensive effort.

"I'm happy with the win. I'm happier still with the way we got the win, doing it with our defense in the second half," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.

Orlando has been bolstered on the defensive end by the return of athletic guard Mickael Pietrus, who played in his second game since missing 12 because of an injured wrist.

Despite the loss, Cleveland (35-9) sits a half-game ahead of Orlando in the overall Eastern Conference standings.

In Phoenix, Arizona, Manu Ginobili made 18 free throws without a miss and finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, and Tony Parker added 26 points in the Spurs' victory over the Suns.

The victory was the Spurs' 29th in a row when they score 100 or more points - 14 last season and 15 this season.

The game was close through three quarters, before a 9-2 run early in the fourth period gave the Spurs a 12-point lead. The Suns cut it to 107-104 with 1:05 remaining, but Parker's field goal and Ginobili's five free throws closed out the scoring.

Tim Duncan added 20 points and 15 rebounds, and Roger Mason, whose three-point buzzer-beater gave San Antonio a one-point victory over Phoenix on Christmas, had 12 points.

Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Grant Hill had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Steve Nash finished with 16 points and 18 assists, and Shaquille O'Neal and Matt Barnes each scored 13 points. It was the first time in 20 games that O'Neal failed to score at least 15 points.


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