ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Never in LeBron James’ entire basketball life could he recall being down by more than 40 points.
Not in the NBA. Not in high school. Not even playing pickup basketball as a kid.
The Orlando Magic gave him a first.
Dwight Howard had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Magic rode a strong second-half start to go ahead by 41 points and hand the Cleveland Cavaliers their most lopsided loss of the season with a 116-87 blowout Friday night.
“It’s embarrassing,” James said.
James finished with 26 points and nine rebounds but never did find his rhythm, shooting 7-for-20 from the floor. James stayed in for part of the fourth quarter to help Cleveland dodge its worst loss since he was drafted in 2003. Only Daniel Gibson’s 3-pointer in the waning seconds saved Cleveland from that fate.
Cleveland’s 35-point defeat at Detroit on Nov. 11, 2007, was the most lopsided in the LeBron Era, and a 17-point loss against the Lakers in January had been the Cavs’ worst this season. It was a shocking loss for a team with the NBA’s best record, which lost consecutive games for only the second time this season.
“It’s not about how many games you lose, it’s about how you lose them,” James said. “The last two games weren’t how we play the game of basketball.”
And the Magic made Cleveland look foolish.
Lewis made consecutive 3-pointers to cap a 19-2 start to the second half, a flurry of swishes and Howard dunks that simply overwhelmed Cleveland.
Howard called a players-only meeting Thursday night after a humbling home loss to Toronto that bounced the Magic from the East’s second seed. Players let out their frustrations, Howard said, and the venting let everyone refocus on the team’s championship goals and again look like a serious contender.
“We had a great meeting,” Howard said. “We thought it was going to be like a five-minute meeting, but it ended up being like 20 minutes. Everybody said what they needed to say, it was just something that we needed.”
Howard had a crushing block on a layup attempt by James that brought the home fans to their feet in one seemingly collective “ooh.” Howard smiled down court, and an obviously throttled James tried to return the favor but was called for goaltending on Howard’s hook shot.
It got worse for Cleveland—much worse.
A series of alley-oops, dunks and wide-open 3-pointers all seemed to connect for Orlando. And when Courtney Lee finally missed a jumper for the Magic during the spurt, Howard cleaned it up with a monstrous put-back dunk that began the chants of “M-V-P!” every time he shot free throws.
Things got so bad that even central Florida resident and the Magic’s most famous fan, Tiger Woods, left his courtside seat at the end of the third quarter and never returned. The Cavaliers had no answer, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy began to sit his starters before the fourth quarter.
“We did not have a guy who didn’t play well tonight, not a guy,” Van Gundy said.
Everything seemed to go Orlando’s way.
Anthony Johnson banked a 3-pointer high off the glass from near the baseline to cap a 15-4 spurt that gave Orlando a 46-30 lead with about three minutes to play in the first half. The Magic went ahead by 17 points at the break.
“They kicked our behinds starting with Stan Van Gundy,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He and his staff did a nice job. They outworked myself and my staff, and their players outworked our players. From top to bottom, we got our behinds kicked.”
With Howard on the bench, reserve centers Tony Battie and Marcin Gortat combined for 10 points during Orlando’s second-quarter run. Gortat even hit a rare 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the game, and he walked out of Orlando’s locker room after the game holding the box score laughing.
“I have to frame this,” Gortat joked.
The duo not only allowed Howard to take a few extra minutes rest, they grabbed key rebounds, were active on defense to help hold the Cavaliers to 31.8 percent shooting in the half and even contested some of James’ hard-driving layups that kept him frustrated.
That would be a theme throughout.
Showing emotion rarely seen in the regular season, James was called for a technical foul in the first quarter after he was whistled for reaching in on a layup attempt by Turkoglu. James would have more reason to get riled up.
Rafer Alston reached back to his streetballing days when he was known as “Skip to My Lou” on New York’s hard courts with a nifty behind the back dribble, then spinning past James and finishing with a layup. The play was part of a 12-4 run that put the Magic ahead 25-18 late in the first quarter.
By ANTONIO GONZALEZ