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Magic enjoys view from the top

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Published November 28, 2004

ORLANDO - The Magic is in an unfamiliar position in the standings: first place.

"Oh wow!" blurted out a surprised Grant Hill upon hearing the news Saturday night after his 29 points helped the Magic beat the 76ers 105-99. "That's great."

The margin over the Miami Heat for Southeast Division supremacy may be just percentage points, but it's a chasm between this year and last season's 61-loss disappointment.

Last season's Orlando team rarely rallied from 10 points down in the third quarter, and from three back in crunch time. But it's happening now.

"Forget about us in first place," Hill said. "Just to have a winning record and be playing good basketball, coming off last year, is definitely a positive."

Still, the Magic isn't letting four wins in five games go to its head.

"Tell me we're in first in April," said Steve Francis, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. "Tell me that in April and I'll jump on it. But it's early."

Francis had six points in the last 48 seconds. His jumper put the Magic up 101-97, but Allen Iverson followed with a driving layup. Francis answered with a jumper, and hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds remaining to seal the win.

"We had the game. This is a game we could've won," Iverson said. "We just didn't do the things we needed to do to get it done. We didn't get stops when we needed to, and I had a lot to do with that on both ends."

After Francis made a free throw with 2:08 to go, cutting the deficit to two, Hill sank baseline jumpers on consecutive possessions, sparking the game-ending 11-2 run.

Hill was 10-of-21 from the field and made all nine free throws. Francis was 7-for-15 and 10-of-11 from the line as the Magic shot 31-for-36. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

For Philadelphia, Marc Jackson had 17 points and a season-best 11 rebounds. Andre Iguodala scored 15.

Orlando trailed by 10 early in the second half, but rallied when its defense began feeding its offense. Powered by three blocks in a 33-second span, the Magic went on a 15-2 run and took a 79-75 lead.

KNICKS 108, RAPTORS 102: Tim Thomas had a season-high 17 and a crucial defensive stop against Vince Carter in the Knicks' fifth straight home win. New York let a 12-point lead get whittled to one in the final two minutes. But after two free throws by Jamal Crawford (30 points) pushed the lead back to three with 20 seconds left, Thomas forced Carter into taking and missing an awkward running hook shot. Toronto's reserves combined for 51 points, the same as the starters.

BOBCATS 107, HAWKS 92: Reserve Eddie House scored 17 and Emeka Okafor had 14 and 10 rebounds for his fourth straight double double as the Bobcats won their third game - all at home. Al Harrington scored 27 and Antoine Walker 24 for the struggling Hawks, who failed to score 100 for the 13th straight game.

CAVALIERS 96, BULLS 74: LeBron James scored 26 to become the youngest player in league history to reach 2,000 in a career. At 19 years, 272 days old, James is 277 days younger than Laker Kobe Bryant was when he set the mark on Feb. 23, 1999. "I don't notice things like that, I just notice I'm playing better," James said. Jeff McInnis scored 16 for host Cleveland, which won for the ninth time in 10 games.

MAVS 98, GRIZZLIES 85: Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 and grabbed 18 rebounds for visiting Dallas. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said that former Hawks and Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello, considered the leading candidate to replace Hubie Brown, met with president of basketball operation Jerry West.

SPURS 109, JAZZ 76: Malik Rose scored a season-high 16 and host San Antonio made nine of its first 10 shots to pull away early. The Spurs have beaten Utah 18 straight times dating to February 2000.

NUGGETS 82, ROCKETS 76: Andre Miller scored 20 and Kenyan Martin had 19 in Denver's first road win. The Nuggets had a scare in the third quarter when Carmelo Anthony sprained his right ankle. He hit the floor hard on a foul by Bob Sura and stayed down for several minutes. X-rays were negative and Anthony is day to day. Tracy McGrady had 14 for Houston, which lost its third in a row.

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