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Howard's 24 lead Magic past Cavs for 2-1 lead
Updated: 2009-05-25 13:47

ORLANDO, Fla. - LeBron James had no shot. Dwight Howard scored 24 points - 14 on free throws - and Rafer Alston added 18 as the Orlando Magic, sick of seeing replays of James' dramatic Game 2 buzzer-beater, downed the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-89 on Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead in an Eastern Conference finals getting nastier by the minute.

James scored 41 on just 11-of-28 shooting and missed five free throws in the fourth quarter. But once again, Cleveland's superstar didn't get enough help from his teammates. Mo Williams, who needed four stitches to close two gashes around his left eye after being elbowed in the first half, Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas shot a combined 13-of-37.

Game 4 is Tuesday night.

Howard's 24 lead Magic past Cavs for 2-1 lead
Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard (C) is fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers' Zydrunas Ilgauskas from Lithuania (L) as his teammate LeBron James tries to get the ball from Howard in the second quarter during Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals NBA basketball playoff series in Orlando, Florida May 24, 2009. [Agencies]  

The first two games of the series in Cleveland were each decided by one point. This one was resolved by elbows, shoves and hard fouls.

Howard, Ilgauskas and Cleveland's Anderson Varejao all fouled out as the officials called 58 personals, handed out two technicals, a flagrant and spent half the night stepping between players on both sides as tempers flared inside an overheated Amway Arena.

"We just kept fighting. That's what we got to do, we fight to the end," Howard said. "We can't worry about nothing, we can't worry about the calls, can't worry about nobody else. We just got to get out there and play."

When the referees weren't making peace, they were sending players to the free-throw line.

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Unlike Games 1 and 2, the Magic didn't fall behind by double digits and need to rally. They got out fast, stayed close despite Howard's early foul trouble and put the Cavs away at the line.

Howard, a notoriously poor foul shooter, went 14-of-19 from the line and the Magic made 39 of 51 attempts. In the fourth quarter alone, Orlando made 19 of 23 to hold off the top-seeded Cavaliers, who began the playoffs with eight straight wins and have now dropped two of their last three.

Cleveland better figure out a way to win in steamy Florida fast. The Cavs, who were thumped here by 29 on April 3, have lost six of their last seven in Orlando.

The Magic seem to have a spell over the Cavs.

Despite his lack of help, James kept Cleveland within striking distance in the fourth and scored on a three-point play while getting Howard's fifth foul with 2:34 to play to pull the Cavs to 90-86.

Howard, wrapped up underneath, then made two free throws before James was fouled and rimmed out two at the other end. On Orlando's next trip, Mickael Pietrus, who came off the bench to score 16, grabbed a long rebound, got fouled and was pushed in the back by West, who was handed a T.

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