Howard Hurt as Magic Lose to Lakers
L.A. Lakers 104, Orlando 88
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 23 (Ticker) -- Shortly after Dwight Howard turned an ankle, Chris Mihm turned into an All-Star.
Mihm made his first eight shots and scored 20 points as the Los Angeles Lakers took advantage of the absence of Howard for a 104-88 victory over the Orlando Magic, who have lost four straight games.
"Obviously the game was determined a lot by Howard having to leave the game 2 1/2 minutes into the first quarter," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That took alot of energy away from their team."
The Magic already were in an 8-2 hole when Howard went down just 2:22 into the game. Second in the NBA in rebounding (13.0) and double-doubles (18), the power forward was diagnosed with a sprained right ankle and did not return.
"Obviously he is a guy they were going to go to a lot," said Mihm, who made 8-of-9 shots and added five rebounds and three blocked shots. "As their second-leading scorer, they were going to try and find a way to get the ball into him."
"I thought in light of the circumstances, our guys were competitive," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "We fought through a tough situation with Dwight going down. ... Another difficult loss."
With Howard out, the Magic slowly climbed back into the game and took a 39-37 lead on a three-point play by Tony Battie with 5:24 left in the second quarter. But they missed their last seven shots of the period as the big man's absence caught up with them.
The Lakers scored the next 15 points, closing the first half with a 17-1 surge that featured five layups or dunks and seven points from Mihm, who battled foul trouble in one of his better games of the season.
"I was disappointed in the job we did with Chris Mihm," Hill said. "Some of that is a result of gearing your defense so much towards Kobe. ... But some of the things were just simple little duck-ins and cuts to the basket."
Trailing by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, the Magic closed to 77-68 on a jumper by Pat Garrity late in the period. Bryant answered with two free throws and a shot clock-beating jumper around a foul shot by Devean George, rebuilding the lead to 82-68 entering the final period.
Howard's absence hurt the Magic in many ways. Without his presence in the low post, the Lakers were able to aggressively defend the perimeter and held the Magic without a 3-pointer until early in the fourth quarter.
"We did a great job rotating and making them uncomfortable," Bryant said. "You want to break their rhythm so when guys have open shots, they tend to miss those. The most important thing was breaking their rhythm."
"There are guys that you just can't leave open," Mihm said. "Hedo (Turkoglu) and Pat Garrity are deadly from the 3-point line. We did a good job of containing them and not giving them easy kick-outs where they could make some threes. If a couple of those had gone down, it could have been a different game."
Lamar Odom scored 18 points and Smush Parker added 16 for the Lakers, who shot 49 percent (36-of-73) and had all five starters in double figures as they opened a three-game road trip. Bryant was their only double-digit scorer in Tuesday's win over Dallas.
Steve Francis had a season-high 28 points and nine assists for the Magic, who shot under 40 percent (32-of-81), including 1-of-13 from the arc.
"I think it's a problem of being in sync," Francis said. "When you sit on the bench for seven or eight minutes, its hard to get back in sync and in a rhythmn. For the guys that are out there, we have to contribute at a higher rate."
Orlando has dropped 12 of its last 14 meetings with Los Angeles.