MINNEAPOLIS – Dwight Howard is all grown up.

Howard went toe-to-toe with his idol Kevin Garnett, scoring 21 points and grabbing 22 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to a 109-98 victory over the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.

Jameer Nelson added 23 points and Darko Milicic had a season-high 15 points and five rebounds for Orlando, which led by as many as 20 points and cruised after a strong first quarter.

Garnett had 28 points and 11 rebounds, but Minnesota couldn’t keep up with the young, athletic Magic on the defensive end and lost their fourth in a row after a 2-0 start.

The last time the present and future of NBA power forwards met in March, Howard admitted to being nervous against the player who blazed the trail for high schoolers like him to make the jump straight to the pros.

Garnett dominated that matchup with 27 points, 19 rebounds and six assists to Howard’s 15 points and 12 boards, showing that the young man had plenty to learn before he was ready to take the torch.

This time, Howard didn’t let the former MVP push him around. Instead he was the aggressor, going right at one of the league’s best defensive players on the low block.

Playing without leading scorer Grant Hill, who was deactivated to rest on the second night of a back-to-back, the Magic led by nine after the first quarter behind a monster start by Howard.

The third-year pro scored 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, most of them against Garnett, and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Magic to a 29-20 lead.

Howard did a little bit of everything in the first, throwing down two thunderous dunks and backing Garnett down in the paint, then finishing with a soft baby hook.

The Magic shot 74 percent in the first quarter, while Minnesota’s shooting woes continued.

The Timberwolves came into the game averaging just over 85 points in their last three losses, and they missed 20 of their first 26 shots.

Milicic took over in the second period, scoring 10 points and creating a mismatch with his size down low.

Time and again, Garnett tried to push Howard off the block, making him set up shop on the baseline. But Howard showed a dazzling array of low-post moves and nimble footwork that allowed him to get any shot he wanted.

In one sequence in the first quarter, Howard outleaped 6-foot-10 forward Eddie Griffin to snatch a ferocious rebound, came down in the paint, made a lightning-quick spin move and threw down a hammer dunk that rocked the goal.

The display of raw power clearly stunned the Timberwolves, and the rest of the league may be next.

Notes: A gift was left in Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey’s office before the game: A Mickey Mouse balloon with black crepe paper forming an ‘X’ across the face, a shot at Orlando’s Disney roots. … Pat Garrity added 11 points for Orlando.

AP-ES-11-11-06 2243EST


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