ORLANDO, Fla. — Vince Carter had 25 points, Dwight Howard finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds and the Orlando Magic beat the Lakers 96-94 on Sunday to hand Los Angeles its first three-game losing streak of the Pau Gasol–Kobe Bryant era.
Carter made his first 13 free throws and kept the Magic in control, showing signs of why Orlando made the move for the eight-time All-Star after losing to the Lakers in last year's finals.
But Carter's lone miss gave the Lakers a chance at the end, with Bryant's 20-foot jumper falling short.
Bryant had 34 points and Gasol added 20 points for the Lakers, walking to the locker room distraught and dejected after their latest loss. And with quite a different feeling than that champagne-soaked championship celebration last June.
But this one had all the drama of that series.
Matt 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 delivered 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 2-pointer. And just like that, the Lakers are in their first three-game skid since they acquired Gasol from Memphis in February 2008.
The rematch had the physical feel of a finals.
Bryant and Barnes continuously traded elbows and were each hit with a technical foul in the third quarter after going chest-to-chest in a verbal spat. Barnes had a put-back dunk a few plays later and dangled his legs on Bryant, who extended his right arm slightly into his opponent's chest, leading to another confrontation.
Howard interjected and was called for a technical after muttering a few words at Bryant. The two All-Stars and Olympic teammates kept the verbal jabs going, showing no similar love when their NBA teams meet.
All the rough and tough play gave way to a foul fest.
The teams combined to shoot 29 free throws — with Orlando going 17-for-18 — in the opening quarter alone. Howard and Andrew Bynum were sidelined in foul trouble for most of the first three quarters, but a strong effort from Carter and the Magic bench put Orlando ahead by 12 points late in the third.
Then the Lakers provided a reminder of the finals.
They came back just like they did in Games 4 and 5 last year in Orlando, scoring 10 straight points — including the first eight to start the fourth — to cut the Magic's lead to 74-72.
Howard answered with a thunderous dunk over Gasol, who was called for a flagrant-one foul on the play about halfway through the fourth. Then like Game 4 — when Howard missed a pair of crucial free throws — he again missed badly on both, but still put Orlando ahead 81-74 in what would be a back-and-forth finish.
Lakers F Ron Artest reached for his inner Dennis Rodman on Sunday. His hair was dyed blonde with letters in three different languages in Lakers purple. He didn't want to talk about his hair before the game, but he posted on his Twitter page that the letters spelled "Defense" in Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. … Yankees pitchers CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were sitting in the first row on the baseline.