Orlando 109, Minnesota 98

MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 11 (AP) -- The first few times Dwight Howard played against Kevin Garnett, he was a wide-eyed kid awed by being on the same floor as his idol.

He's all grown up now.

Howard went toe-to-toe with Garnett, scoring 21 points and grabbing 22 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to a 109-98 victory over the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.

``When I first played against him, I was like, 'Whoa, that's KG.' I was just happy to play against him,'' said Howard, who already has grabbed at least 20 rebounds in a game six times in his career.

``After my first two years, I was like, 'I know I have to play KG. I know all the things he's going to do.' I just really tried to get after him and go back at him every time they scored.''

Jameer Nelson added 23 points and Darko Milicic had a season-high 15 points and five rebounds for Orlando, which led by as many as 20 points and cruised after a strong first quarter.

Garnett had 28 points and 11 rebounds, but Minnesota couldn't keep up with the young, athletic Magic on the defensive end and lost its fourth in a row after a 2-0 start.

``I don't think confidence is a problem,'' Garnett said. ``Being consistent for 48 minutes is the big question. Consistency is the big word here.''

The last time the present and future of NBA power forwards met in March, Howard admitted to being nervous against the player who blazed the trail for high schoolers like him to make the jump straight to the pros.

Garnett dominated that matchup with 27 points, 19 rebounds and six assists to Howard's 15 points and 12 boards, showing that the young man had plenty to learn before he was ready to take the torch.

This time, Howard didn't let the former MVP push him around. Instead he was the aggressor, going right at one of the league's best defensive players on the low block.

``When I play against KG, it's like, 'OK, this is the guy I watched growing up, wanted to be like,''' Howard said. ``So I'm always excited to be on the court when I get to play KG.''

Playing without leading scorer Grant Hill, who was deactivated to rest on the second night of a back-to-back, the Magic led by nine after the first quarter behind a monster start by Howard.

The third-year pro scored 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, most of them against Garnett, and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Magic to a 29-20 lead.

Howard did a little bit of everything in the first, throwing down two thunderous dunks and backing Garnett down in the paint, then finishing with a soft baby hook.

``I thought Dwight showed he was a special player tonight,'' Magic coach Brian Hill said.

The Magic shot 74 percent in the first quarter, while Minnesota's shooting woes continued.

The Timberwolves came into the game averaging just over 85 points in their last three losses, and they missed 20 of their first 26 shots.

Milicic took over in the second period, scoring 10 points and creating a mismatch with his size down low and the Magic outrebounded Minnesota 46-28.

``It's still early, but we have to jump-start it,'' Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey said. ``We're carrying our misses on the offensive end over to the defensive end.''

Time and again, Garnett tried to push Howard off the block, making him set up shop on the baseline. But Howard showed a dazzling array of low-post moves and nimble footwork that allowed him to get any shot he wanted.

In one sequence in the first quarter, Howard outleaped 6-foot-10 forward Eddie Griffin to snatch a ferocious rebound, came down in the paint, made a lightning-quick spin move and threw down a hammer dunk that rocked the goal.

The display of raw power clearly stunned the Timberwolves, and the rest of the league may be next.

``No, I haven't arrived,'' Howard said. ``I still have a long way to go in my career. I'm only 20 years old. Each practice, each game, I'm looking to do something different.''

Notes: A gift was left in Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey's office before the game: A Mickey Mouse balloon with black crepe paper forming an 'X' across the face, a shot at Orlando's Disney roots. ... Pat Garrity added 11 points for Orlando.

Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited