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Published: Monday, 5/5/2008

Detroit-Orlando series: Magic competitive ... verbally

ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit-Orlando series is not as intriguing as the other three matchups in the NBA playoffs.

The Pistons and Magic are trying to change that.

A day after Detroit beat Orlando 91-72 in Game 1 of their second-round series, players on both teams took verbal swipes at each other.

Magic forward Rashard Lewis took down Theo Ratliff with a physical foul midway through the fourth quarter, and Jason Maxiell quickly got in Lewis' face with a menacing look and choice words.

Ratliff didn't need the assistance.

"There's no sense in guys coming to my rescue," Ratliff said yesterday. "I mean, that was

Rashard Lewis. He's a 3 man."

What Ratliff said was relayed to Lewis and the small forward fired back.

"You can have a lot of energy in five minutes a game," Lewis said. "What's he played, 15 games? Tell him to come out and guard me."

Detroit signed the 6-foot-10 Ratliff in March after the center reached a buyout agreement with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he played in 16 games for the team that drafted him in 1995.

Ratliff was one of four players the Pistons successfully sent at Dwight Howard, slowing him down after his performances in the first round drew comparisons to famed NBA players.

In the first quarter against Detroit, Howard had six points, five rebounds and three blocks. The rest of the game, he scored just six points, grabbed three rebounds and didn't swat a shot.

Howard's 12 points were the fewest he scored during this postseason and his eight rebounds marked a career low in 10 playoff games.

His lackluster game led to Orlando scoring a season-worst 72 points, 13 fewer than its previous low. He averaged 22.6 points, 18.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks against Toronto - helping Orlando advance in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 - to rival what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone produced in those categories during the playoffs in the 1970s.

Howard scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in three games against the Raptors, becoming the first player to pull off the feat in the postseason since Wilt Chamberlain did in 1972.

Pistons coach Flip Saunders started with Maxiell guarding Howard before sending Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Ratliff at him.

"Dwight is an imposing player, but we've played against some of the Hall of Famers so it's not really something we worry about," Ratliff said.

Maxiell explained matter-of-factly how Detroit made the 6-11, 265-pound Howard look ordinary.

"He's has a very strong upper body," Maxiell said. "But if you get down low and take his legs out, he's not that powerful."

Howard bristled at the suggestion that his lower body is weak.

"That's not true," Howard said. "Trust me."

Howard also needs help from the perimeter. The Magic set an NBA record by making at least five 3-pointers in every game, led the league by making nearly 10 3s a game and attempted 25 shots from beyond the arc to trail only Golden State.

Orlando was 2-of-15 on 3-pointers in the series opener against Detroit.

"They're a finesse team," Ratliff said. "They're a 3-point shooting team."

Like Howard, Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson took exception with Ratliff's assessment.

"Who? Who?" Nelson asked mockingly when Ratliff's comments were repeated by reporters. "I'm getting sick and tired of people calling us soft."

Nelson might also grow tired of hearing some say he and his teammates can't guard Chauncey Billups or Richard Hamilton.

Billups scored a game-high 19 points Saturday night, even though he rested during the lopsided fourth quarter, and Hamilton had 17.

Almost at will, Billups blew past Nelson off the dribble and Hamilton curled around screens to get open for mid-range jumpers against Maurice Evans.

"Chauncey drove the ball and he's a very strong guy, so if he gets an angle and drops that shoulder, good luck getting in front of him," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Rip around screens is the best in the league. Since Reggie Miller retired, he's the best catch-and-shoot player coming off screens in the NBA."



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