ORLANDO, Fla. - Dwight Howard was barking in the locker room Sunday, mocking some Lakers he claimed called his Orlando Magic team "puppies."
On the court, the Magic showed they can bite.
Vince Carter had 25 points, Howard finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds and the Magic beat the Lakers, 96-94, to hand Los Angeles its first three-game losing streak of the Pau Gasol-Kobe Bryant Era.
“Alpha dogs usually have the big bark,” Howard said. “But since we’re so-called puppies, we won’t bark as loud.”
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Carter made his first 13 free throws and kept the Magic in control, showing why Orlando made the move for the eight-time All-Star after losing to the Lakers in last year’s finals.
Throw feisty Matt Barnes into the mix to add some physical presence and the Magic finally got some payback for a finals failure that has not been forgotten.
“You could see it in everybody’s faces and everybody’s demeanor,” Carter said. “Everybody on that floor wanted to win that game. It wasn’t just, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’ It was, ‘Let’s go get it.’ That game was Game 7.”
Bryant played through a minor stomach illness to score 34 points, and Gasol added 20 for the Lakers. But they all walked to the locker room distraught and dejected after Bryant missed a 20-footer at the buzzer to seal their latest loss.
Even the champagne-soaked championship celebration last June felt distant in the visitors locker room.
This one had all the drama of last season’s series.
Barnes made a 3-pointer to push the Magic’s lead to six with 1:10 remaining. A missed free throw by Jameer Nelson gave the Lakers a chance to tie, and Bryant did just that with a 3-pointer – if only for a second – with 12.9 seconds remaining.
Bryant jumped into his teammates pouring out from the bench in what would be a premature celebration. Officials reviewed the play and ruled that it was only a two.
Carter’s lone missed free throw gave the Lakers another chance, but Bryant’s last-chance shot landed short.
Bryant and Barnes traded elbows often, went chest-to-chest in one verbal spat and both were hit with technical fouls in the third quarter. Barnes and Derek Fisher got double fouls in the game’s final minute after Orlando’s feisty forward threw a blind-side screen.
Howard was called for a technical after jawing at Bryant.