Road Magic

Kobe Bryant gives the Los Angeles Lakers the NBA's most dominant player at his position. Thanks to Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic may be able to make the same claim.

Howard and the Magic (14-4) look to improve their NBA-best 9-2 road record Sunday when they face Bryant and the Lakers with a chance to end a 10-game road losing streak in the series.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Los Angeles -1 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 211 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 78% of bets for this game have been placed on Orlando +1 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Orlando fell 110-106 at Phoenix on Friday night for its second loss to the Suns in three weeks. The defeat certainly couldn't be blamed on Howard, as the 21-year-old center had 30 points and a season-high 23 rebounds, prompting Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni to label him a "monster."

Despite that performance, the Magic proved to be outclassed by the Suns. Orlando couldn't overcome a 31-16 deficit after the first quarter despite outscoring Phoenix 90-79 the rest of the way.

"We didn't play well enough or long enough,'' said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team fell to 2-1 on a five-game Western Conference road trip. "I'll give our guys some credit for their resilience at the end. But I'm not going to act like it was a great performance.''

Howard's leap from solid presence in the paint to emerging superstar in his fourth NBA season has been the biggest reason for the Magic's outstanding start. He averaged 17.6 points last season and his 12.3 rebounds per game ranked third in the league. In 2007-08, however, he's scoring 23.8 points a game and grabbing a league-best 15.0 rebounds.

He had eight dunks against Phoenix, giving him an NBA-best 81 on the season - the Lakers' Andrew Bynum is in second with 34. He had more dunks than 25 teams prior to Friday night's games.

Howard certainly isn't the only reason Orlando is off to a fast start. New addition Rashard Lewis is averaging 19.1 points and shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range, and Hedo Turkoglu (37.5 percent) and Keith Bogans (37.1) have also been accurate from beyond the arc.

Orlando is making 9.1 3-pointers per game, best in the league, and its 103.4-point average is tops in the Eastern Conference.

The Lakers (9-7) boast a potent offense of their own, averaging 106.0 points, among the top five in the league. Los Angeles is led once again by superstar guard Bryant, who's averaging 27.6 points a game.

Unlike past seasons in which Bryant has carried Los Angeles offensively, however, Bryant's been getting help this season. Four other Lakers are averaging double figures in scoring, and eight total players average at least 7.3 points. Jordan Farmar (10.1 ppg), Vladimir Radmanovic (8.9) and Ronny Turiaf (7.6) give Los Angeles a deep bench.

Despite the newfound balance and depth, the Lakers have been up and down, winning seven games by at least 10 points but losing four by at least 13.

That inconsistency was on display in the Lakers' two most recent games. They beat Denver 127-99 at home Thursday, but followed it up a night later by losing 120-96 at Utah, which was playing without leading scorer Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.

"One of my coaches said we were as soft as Dairy Queen ice cream (at Utah),'' coach Phil Jackson said.

The Jazz scored 52 points in the paint in the first half and 70 on the night.

"They were just having a frolic in the lane," Jackson said. "Our big guys just didn't step up and play and our guards weren't controlling the dribble and penetration."

The Lakers will look to bounce back and continue their dominance of the Magic. Los Angeles hasn't lost at home to Orlando since March 17, 1996, and has won five in a row and 15 of 17 overall in the series.

Orlando and Los Angeles haven't met this season, but they made a trade Nov. 20. The Lakers sent forwards Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to the Magic for forward Trevor Ariza.

Cook and Ariza haven't made much of an impact for their new teams, but Evans has contributed 6.0 points off the bench for the Magic.

By: Marc Young - - Email Us

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