Magic down Celtics, pull even in Eastern Conference

ORLANDO, Florida, (Reuters) – The Orlando Magic  took a big step toward claiming the No. 2 seed in the Eastern  Conference, holding off the visiting Boston Celtics 84-82 on  Wednesday.

All-Star center Dwight Howard dominated with 24 points and  21 rebounds as the Magic clinched the Southeast Division for  the second straight season and pulled even in the standings  with the Celtics.

Orlando (53-18) hold the edge over Boston (54-19) in the  loss column as well as winning percentage with just 11 games  remaining, giving them the inside track for home court  advantage in a likely second-round matchup between the teams.

“It means a lot,” Howard told reporters, after tallying  four blocks, including one on Paul Pierce with 3.8 seconds  left. “We played hard from the beginning of the game and that’s  what it will take from here if we want to be a championship  team.

“Paul Pierce caught fire (late) but we kept pushing and  came out with a good win.”
Pierce scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second  half but missed a 3-pointer attempt as the final clock expired  that failed to reach the rim.

The defending NBA champion Celtics rallied from a 15-point  deficit in the second half and used a 9-2 run in the fourth  quarter to trail just 83-82 with 1:27 left.

Ray Allen made a 3-pointer during the stretch and had 16  points.
Kevin Garnett, in his fourth game since missing 13 contests  with a knee injury, played just 17 minutes and sat on the bench  down the stretch as Boston coach Doc Rivers continued to be  cautious with the All-Star forward’s return.

Orlando forward Rashard Lewis had six of his 21 points in  the fourth and recorded four 3-pointers in his team’s fourth  win in a row.

“Any time you gut out a win it just gives you more  confidence and resolve,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.  “We’ve had a lot of those (games) this year, yet people still  continue to question the toughness of our team.”

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