The mark of Superman, indeed.
Howard finished 9 for 13 shooting and once again proved why he's the NBA's twice-reigning defensive player of the year. He bullied and bruised Lopez in the paint and handed the Nets center one of the worst offensive games of his young career, even giving him an ever-so small shiner.
"It didn't get there by itself," Lopez said.
Lopez missed his first 13 shots but finished with 10 points, most coming far too late to prevent New Jersey's third straight loss. Orlando has beaten the Nets four consecutive times.
"He probably just had an off night," Howard said, smiling.
That tends to happen a lot against Howard.
It was the tightest game the Magic have had all season -- including the preseason, where they won all seven games by an average of almost 25 points. Even their lone loss to the Heat was a 26-point rout that was never close.
"We were winded," Howard said. "We haven't played that much since last season."
But Orlando's best work came on defense.
Howard had Lopez completely out of rhythm, swatting one shot, heaving up others off balance, fumbling the ball and throwing it away. Lopez finished 3 for 17 shooting.
About the only thing that kept it close was that backup Kris Humphries made his first five shots from the floor. And No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors also had a pair of highlight dunks, including a one-handed slam over an outstretched Marcin Gortat, to help New Jersey go ahead 51-41 in the second quarter.
The Nets couldn't sustain the effort with their big man struggling.
Howard returned to the game and restored order, anchoring a Magic rally with some creative hooks and spin moves. They scored seven points in the final minute of the half to trim New Jersey's lead to 51-48.
"It showed their aggressiveness," Nets coach Avery Johnson said.
Howard was even more potent and powerful following the break, grabbing an alley-oop pass from Nelson for a dunk over Lopez. Howard continued to dominate New Jersey's front line, and Mickael Pietrus made three 3-pointers in the third quarter -- sticking his tongue out and raising his arms up after the last one -- to help Orlando go ahead 87-67 and all but finish off the Nets.
But it was Howard's defense that again carried Orlando.
"My expectations are for him to play like that every night," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I don't take it for granted, but I know it's not easy to do or for him to play like that every night. I know if he puts great energy and focus into the game, those kind of games are possible every night."
Nelson turned his left ankle slightly in the final minutes. But he said he should be fine. ... R&B group Boyz II Men sang the national anthem before the game. ... Magic PF Ryan Anderson was acquired from New Jersey in 2009 but is still good friends with Lopez. Anderson said he didn't hear from Lopez when the Nets arrived Thursday night so he sent him a text message. "He says, 'Guess where I am?'" Anderson recalled. "And I said, 'You're at Disney World, aren't you?'" Correct. Anderson said Lopez is actually a huge theme-park fan and often comes to the Orlando-area attractions.
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