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Magic take down Celts to pull even

THE Orlando Magic took a big step toward claiming the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, holding off the visiting Boston Celtics 84-82 on Wednesday.

All-Star center Dwight Howard dominated with 24 points and 21 rebounds as the Magic clinched the Southeast Division for the second straight season and pulled even in the standings with the Celtics. Orlando remains five games behind Cleveland for the conference lead

Orlando (53-18) holds the edge over Boston (54-19) in the loss column as well as winning percentage with just 11 games remaining, giving it the inside track for home-court advantage in a likely second-round matchup between the teams.

"It means a lot," Howard told reporters, after tallying four blocks, including one on Paul Pierce with 3.8 seconds left.

"We played hard from the beginning of the game and that's what it will take from here if we want to be a championship team.

"Paul Pierce caught fire (late) but we kept pushing and came out with a good win."

Pierce scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half but missed a three-pointer attempt as the final clock expired that failed to reach the rim.

In other National Basketball Association games, it was: Cavaliers 98, Nets 87; Pacers 90, Heat 88; Raptors 115, Bucks 106; Spurs 102, Hawks 92; Wizards 95, Bobcats 93; 76ers 96, Timberwolves 88; Clippers 140, Knicks 135 (in overtime); Nuggets 101, Hornets 88; Mavericks 128, Warriors 106; and Suns 118, Jazz 114.

In Orlando, Florida, the defending NBA champions Celtics rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half and used a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter to trail just 82-83 with 1:27 left.

Ray Allen made a three-pointer during the stretch and had 16 points.

Kevin Garnett, in his fourth game since missing 13 contests with a knee injury, played just 17 minutes and sat on the bench down the stretch as Boston coach Doc Rivers continued to be cautious with the All-Star forward's return.

Orlando forward Rashard Lewis had six of his 21 points in the fourth and recorded four three-pointers in his team's fourth win in a row.

"Any time you gut out a win it just gives you more confidence and resolve," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We've had a lot of those (games) this year, yet people still continue to question the toughness of our team."

In Cleveland, Ohio, LeBron James scored 22 points with 11 assists as the Cavaliers set a franchise record with their 58th win ?? and 10th straight ?? by beating New Jersey.

With 11 games left in the regular season, the Cavs already have surpassed the club mark of 57 wins shared by the 1988-89 and 1991-92 teams. Also, James joined Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to post 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in a season at least four times.

Cleveland, which trailed 81-82 with less than four minutes left, also improved to an NBA-best 33-1 at home.


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