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Magic, Lakers take 2-1 semifinal leads

DWIGHT Howard's powerful defensive performance led Orlando to a 117-96 win over the visiting Boston Celtics yesterday, giving the Magic a 2-1 series lead in their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal.

Howard had 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.

"The whole team stepped up the defensive intensity," said Howard, the NBA's defensive player of the year. "It starts with me. I have to do that every night if we want to be successful."

Rashard Lewis had 28 points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 for Orlando, which played without suspended starting point guard Rafer Alston.

Boston's Paul Pierce broke out of his series slump to score 27 points, and Rajon Rondo added 15 for the defending champion Celtics, who trimmed a 20-point deficit to seven before the Magic regained control.

"You give them their inside game and their outside game, then you don't have a chance," Pierce said.

Game 4 is tomorrow in Orlando, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he won't spend time enjoying his team's latest win.

"This is not the time of year to celebrate a win in the playoffs, especially against a team like Boston," Van Gundy said. "It's basically like being at halftime with a one-point lead."

Lakers 108, Rockets 94

In Houston, Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and Los Angeles took a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series against Houston.

Lamar Odom had 16 points and 13 rebounds and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists in place of the suspended Derek Fisher.

Game 3 had no signs of the rough play that turned testy in Game 2 until the final minute, when Houston's Ron Artest was ejected for a hard foul on Pau Gasol. Artest was also ejected from Game 2 for a verbal altercation.

Artest had 25 points and Yao Ming added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets but he was bothered by a lower left leg injury in the final minutes and was limping as he left the court.

The Lakers snapped the Rockets' nine-game home winning streak.

Game 4 is tomorrow in Houston.

The Rockets trailed 50-48 at halftime, then missed 15 of their first 19 shots in the third quarter.

"We had to get stops," Bryant said. "When they started desperation plays we were not able to get stops. In the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we started to get stops and it sustained us."

Bryant had a quiet third quarter until the final 3 seconds, when he swished a straight-on 33-footer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 74-62 lead.

"I missed some easy shots at the rim, they just didn't go down for me," Bryant said. "I had to pull the string on that 3-pointer."

Yao dunked to pull the Rockets within 90-84 by the 4-minute mark. The Chinese missed a baseline shot with 3 minutes left and Bryant beat the shot clock with another 3 with 2:21 left for a 95-84 that virtually put it away.


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