Howard gets defensive as Magic cruise by winless Nets

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard showed the winless New Jersey Nets that he'd like to repeat as the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.

Howard blocked five shots, scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Magic defeated New Jersey Nets 88-72 on Friday night.

The Nets, the NBA's only winless team at 0-9, played without three starters and shot 33 percent (28 of 85) for the game.

It was the first real defensive statement of the season for the Magic and Howard, who had only 13 blocks in the first nine games this season. He swatted away five Nets' shots and altered several more.

He put the clamps on New Jersey center Brook Lopez, who averaged 23.7 points and 11 rebounds in his last three games, but got only four points and five rebounds against the Magic.

"We all played better defensively," Howard said. "My job is to erase other people's mistakes and I did that tonight. I think I had a good night."

"It's no coincidence that Dwight blocks five shots and they [Nets] shoot only 33 percent in the game," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He was really into it. He was guarding his man [Lopez] and blocking shots and that makes a huge difference in the game."

Howard's performance helped the Magic overcome a triple-double by Nets point guard Rafer Alston, who had 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. It was the first triple-double of Alston's 11-year career.

It came against the team he helped to reach the finals with last season, but it didn't prevent the Nets from extending the worst start in franchise history.

"I just want to win, no matter who it's against," Alston said. "We were right there, but we just let go of the rope in the fourth quarter."

The Magic put all five starters in double figures, but had their own offensive struggles for most of the game. Howard dominated inside against Lopez and his backup, Sean Williams, but when New Jersey sent their big men some help, Orlando's perimeter players couldn't take advantage.

The Magic broke things open in the final period. Vince Carter had two 3-pointers and Mickael Pietrus and Jason Williams one each as the Magic used a big run early in the period to open a 78-62 lead with 8:09 left in the game.

The Nets couldn't mount a challenge in the last eight minutes.

"Offensively, we are struggling," Van Gundy said. "We're just not shooting the ball well and until we get back to shooting the ball, we're not going to be as good as we should be."

Game notes
Both teams started the game with nine players available. ... This was the end of Magic F Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension. He will be eligible when the Magic play Charlotte on Monday. ... Nets C Brook Lopez averaged 22.7 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks his past three games. He had only four points and five rebounds against the Magic.


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