Another Tough Challenge

A dominating performance by an opposing big man helped send the Phoenix Suns to their second straight loss Wednesday.

Now they look to come up with an answer for 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard as they try to avoid a third straight defeat Friday when they host the streaking Orlando Magic, who have won more games than any other NBA team.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Phoenix –5.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 212.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Phoenix –5.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Phoenix (11-4) beat the Magic (14-3) for the fourth straight time Nov. 10 in Orlando, winning 106-96 despite 33 points and 18 rebounds from Howard.

But the Suns had problems defending Houston's Yao Ming on Wednesday in a 100-94 home loss to the Rockets, just their second defeat of the season at US Airways Center. Houston successfully slowed down the Suns' preferred breakneck pace and repeatedly got the ball inside to Yao, who had 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting and 13 rebounds.

Coach Mike D'Antoni blamed Phoenix's offense for the loss to the Rockets, as it was just the third time all season the Suns were held under 100 points.

In their previous game, the Suns allowed 45 first-quarter points in a 129-114 loss at Golden State. They had won eight in a row before their current skid.

"There's no need to panic, we just need to improve," Phoenix center Amare Stoudemire said after scoring 25 points Wednesday. "We need to look at film tomorrow and go over the things that we didn't quite execute tonight and improve on that. We're still in good shape and we're still confident."

The Magic, who have won four straight and nine of 10, may be more confident than any other team in basketball. After finishing under .500 last season (40-42), they signed free agent forward Rashard Lewis (19.2 points per game) and have watched Howard take another big step forward.

The 21-year-old Howard is coming off perhaps his best game in four NBA seasons, scoring a career-high 39 points to go with 16 rebounds in Orlando's 110-94 win over Seattle on Wednesday. He was 12-of-17 from the floor and 15-of-20 from the foul line, also blocking five shots and prompting SuperSonics rookie Kevin Durant to call him "the most dominating player in this game right now."

Howard averages 23.5 points and 14.5 rebounds - up from 17.6 and 12.3 last season - and has a league-high 14 double-doubles.

"The way Dwight was playing, they didn't have an answer for him," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "One guy couldn't stop him, two guys couldn't stop him, so they put everybody on him."

The Magic are entering the third leg of a five-game West Coast swing with an NBA-best 9-1 road record. They visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and Golden State the following night.

These teams' first meeting this season was forward Grant Hill's first game back in Orlando after leaving the Magic as a free agent in the offseason. Hill had 14 points and eight rebounds, but it was Leandro Barbosa who buried Orlando with a career-high 39 points.

Though they failed to slow down Howard, the Suns held Lewis to a season-low seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. Lewis had just nine points in his last game at Seattle, where he spent his first nine seasons.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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