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O'Neal makes Nuggets pay

After Denver beat the Orlando Magic last week, Dikembe Mutombo boasted of his defensive prowess against Shaquille O'Neal.

Perhaps that wasn't a prudent move.

"He said he played great defense," O'Neal said. "It got me a little mad, but I'm not motivated by madness."

He just gets even.

O'Neal scored a game-high 29 points and had 16 rebounds Tuesday to lead the Magic to a 95-88 win over the Nuggets at the Orlando Arena. He had 22 points on 9-of-23 shooting in Friday's 98-89 loss at Denver.

"Tonight was a payback for him," Magic coach Brian Hill said.

It couldn't have come at a more opportune time for the Magic (35-23), which snapped a two-game losing streak and held on to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The win was a franchise-record seventh straight at home.

"I've been saying all year that we've been a pretty resilient basketball team," Hill said. "I think Shaq is a real factor in that. He's shown more leadership qualities this year. He's more vocal in the locker room. He encourages the guys a little more."

Again, it couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

Forward Dennis Scottlearned Sunday night that his father, Dennis Sr., died Thursday of a drug overdose and not gunshot wounds as he was first told. The funeral is Thursday, and no one knew how Scott would play.

"You never really forget you just think about trying to find some peace," said Scott, who finished with 17 points.

"It's amazing to me that Dennis is able to do what he's doing," said Hill, who plans to be the only representative of the organization to join Scott at the funeral. Scott doesn't want his teammates there, fearing it could turn into a circus with people asking for pictures and autographs.

Guard Nick Anderson suffered a jammed jaw joint late in the first half and did not return. He left the game with only three points.

Point guard Anfernee Hardaway, bothered by a bruised right knee, was having a game he would just as soon forget.

Late in the first quarter, Hardaway beat Denver point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and floated toward the basket for what should have been an uncontested dunk. Instead, he lost control of the ball in midair, missed the shot and hung his head.

"I was worried about hurting it (the knee) too much," he said. "I just had to get it out of my mind."

It took a while.

The Nuggets (29-29) battled back from a 51-50 halftime deficit for a 72-63 lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter.

O'Neal ended a 3:16 drought with a layin and power forward Larry Krystkowiak made a driving layup to cut the Denver lead to 72-67 entering the final quarter.

Scott made two jumpers to start the quarter, but Abdul-Rauf answered to keep the Magic at bay until veteran backup center Tree Rollins dunked and made a baby hook over former Magic forward Brian Williams to tie the score at 76.

O'Neal, back in moments later, tipped in a high-bounding miss for a 78-76 lead. After an O'Neal free throw, Denver scored six straight points to go up 82-79.

Rollins, replacing O'Neal briefly, again rallied the Magic. He scored inside, drew a foul from guard Reggie Williams and completed the three-point play to tie the score. Rollins finished with a season-high eight points.

Denver rallied for an 84-83 lead on forward LaPhonso Ellis' jump hook. But Hardaway, who heretofore was 3-of-11 from the floor, posted up guard Bryant Stith, drew the foul and got the basket when Mutombo was called for goaltending. Hardaway made the free throw, then hit a jumper for a 90-84 lead with 1:54 to play.

O'Neal then stole the ball from a driving Abdul-Rauf, his former teammate at LSU. That led to two free throws by Krystkowiak.

Ellis and Stith scored consecutive baskets, but O'Neal and point guard Scott Skiles iced the game with free throws.

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