Orlando 106, Charlotte 74

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 5 (AP) -- The Orlando Magic had one of their best defensive games of the season, but it was an offensive play that was all the talk in the winning locker room.

Center Dwight Howard nailed a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, the first time he's connected from behind the arc in his three-year NBA career, and the Magic went on to rout the Charlotte Bobcats 106-74 Friday night.

"There was almost a look of amazement on Dwight's face when he made that shot,'' Magic coach Brian Hill said. "And he wasn't the only one amazed.''

Howard finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. The Magic limited Charlotte to a season-best 29.1 percent shooting, but it was the shot before halftime that was the hot topic after the game.

"Dwight started practicing 3-pointers this year so I guess I shouldn't be surprised he made one,'' said Magic guard Jameer Nelson, who scored 20 points and made four 3-pointers.

"But I hope he doesn't think that he's going to try another one. It's OK in a desperation situation like that, but we aren't going to start running pick-and-pops so he can go behind the line and fire away.''

Howard, who hadn't taken a 3-pointer yet this season and was 0-for-4 in his career, claimed divine intervention helped him get his first one.

"I think an angel came down and guided the ball through the net,'' he said. "And I think I'm going to quit shooting them now and just remember that I'm 100 percent from behind the 3-point line this year.''

The real story of the game, however, was Orlando's defense. The Magic came into the game with the second-best field goal percentage defense in the NBA and showed the Bobcats why.

Orlando led just 64-60 with four minutes left in the third quarter, but shut out the Bobcats for the next seven minutes. The Magic outscored Charlotte 16-0 in that time to push their lead to 80-60. The Bobcats never got closer than 14 points in the final nine minutes of the game.

"Our defense was pretty darn good in the first half and almost exceptional in the second half,'' Hill said. "We stopped the guys we had to stop, and we made them shoot mostly jump shots, which helped us get out in the open floor offensively. I was very, very pleased with our defense.''

Charlotte shot just 34 percent in the first half, but trailed only 56-50 thanks to a combined seven 3-pointers from guards Matt Carroll, Raymond Felton and Derek Anderson. Carroll led the Bobcats with 19 points, Felton finished with 11 and Anderson was the only other Charlotte player in double figures with 10.

In the second half, the Bobcats shot 23.8 percent (10-of-42) and scored only 24 points.

"Twenty-four points isn't going to get it done, not in a half,'' Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "And I thought we really played soft when the shots weren't going in. That's not our character.''

Added Carroll: "When you lose this badly, it is embarrassing. They're beating us and kind of laughing at the end of the game and that is embarrassing for any professional team.''

Notes: Charlotte C Primoz Brezec had a season-high 12 rebounds. ... Jeff McInnis played his first game for Charlotte. He was 0-for-4 from the field and finished with two points. Carroll missed his first free throw attempt, ending a string of 37 straight makes. Magic C Darko Milicic left the game in the first quarter with a strained foot. He did not return and is listed day-to-day. The Magic are in the midst of a four-game homestand and have played 11 of their last 14 at Amway Arena. They are just 6-5 in those 11 games. Magic shooting guards Grant Hill and Keyon Dooling missed their third straight game. Hill has a sore left foot and Dooling a strained left Achilles. Bobcats SF Gerald Wallace missed his second straight game with a separated shoulder.


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