Posted Jan 21 2007 9:00PM
Dwight Howard's recent struggles are mirroring those of the Orlando Magic as their longest losing streak of the season has knocked them out of first place in the Southeast Division.
Howard will try to help the Magic (22-19) end a five-game skid and post their first win in Cleveland in nearly four years when they meet the LeBron James and Central Division-leading Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday.
Before Orlando's slide started Jan. 12 with a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard averaged 17.4 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Since then, he's averaged only 14.6 points and 9.8 rebounds. Four of the Magic's five losses have been by fewer than eight points, and that slide has dropped them 2 1/2 games behind Washington in the Southeast.
"He is our guy down there,'' Magic rookie guard J.J. Redick said of Howard. "Take him out and it's going to be tough for us to win games.''
The top overall pick in the 2004 draft has the worst game of his pro career in Orlando's 101-94 loss to New Jersey on Saturday. Howard missed all six shots he took from the field and finished with a career low one point in nearly 26 minutes, but also said he's not that concerned.
"I'm going to have nights when I can't get my shot off,'' Howard said. "Sometimes calls won't go my way. I still have to play basketball. It happens once in a blue moon, so hopefully it won't happen again.''
Howard had team highs of 17 points and 13 rebounds in an 86-83 road loss to the Cavaliers on Dec. 23. The Magic have lost six straight in Cleveland since March 2, 2003, and Orlando also has lost eight of its last nine road games overall to fall to 8-12 away from home so far this season.
Cleveland (24-16) returns home after going 3-4 on a season-high seven-game road trip, capped by a 106-104 overtime win against Golden State on Saturday to snap a three-game slide. Cleveland trailed 62-44 at halftime, and rallied to win when newly acquired Stephen Jackson missed a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime.
"In the second half, it was like night and day,'' said James, who finished with 32 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. "We just dug down and did what we've been doing. Before the three-game losing streak, that's what we were doing. We were getting stops, and we found a way to win.''
The Cavaliers return home, where they're 15-3 this season and trail only Washington and Chicago for the most home wins in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls and Wizards each have 17 home wins.
"It is always good to get a win and go home,'' said James, who averages 27.1 ppg but has scored at least 30 in five of his last seven games. "It has been easy for me to step my game up, just by being a leader, it gives me an opportunity to go out there and play well without making a mistake.''
The top overall pick by Cleveland in 2003, James is averaging 30.5 points on 57.5 percent shooting (23-of-40) from the floor in two games against the Magic this season. He had 29 points in an 81-74 loss at Orlando on Dec. 16 before scoring 32 in the home win a week later.
The Cavaliers lead Detroit by one-half game in the Central.
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