Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Orlando Magic beat LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers to reach NBA Finals

They're back from the basketball dead.Fourteen long and frustrating years since making their first NBA Finals appearance — just six years removed from posting the league's worst record — the Orlando Magic are returning for a shot at the championship.The Magic earned a trip to face the Los Angeles Lakers for the title by winning the Eastern Conference finals, ousting the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-90 in Game 6 on Saturday night at Amway Arena.The NBA Finals opens in L.A. at"It would be so great to get a trophy for Rich," Magic President Bob Vander Weide said, speaking of team owner Rich DeVos, 82.Orlando made it to the title round in 1995, but was swept by the Houston Rockets in four games.The Magic were led by young superstar center Shaquille O'Neal back then.And their return to those glory days is fueled now by young superstar center Dwight Howard, who scored 40 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to spare the Magic from playing a Game 7 in Cleveland on Monday night.Two summers ago, Howard — the No. 1 draft pick in 2004 the Magic received after compiling a league-worst 21-61 record — predicted the Magic would win a title."Everybody laughed," Howard said. "I mean everyone."And last summer, when Howard joined Cavs megastar LeBron James and others on the gold-medal winning Olympic team, Howard was greeted with similar reactions when he talked up the Magic."They all said, 'Yeah, right, Dwight," he recalls.Dwight was right.The Magic rode Howard and super sub Mickael Pietrus' 14 points, hit timely 3-pointers and kept LeBron (25 points) from ruining their dream.So long LeBron, hello Kobe.The Magic closed out the Cavs 4-2 in the best-of-seven series, completing a remarkable playoff run along to reach L.A.After beating the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2, the Magic eliminated the defending champion Boston Celtics 4-3 and then sent home the Cavs —- who compiled the best regular-season record at 66-16.The Magic proved to be no mirage. Despite all their impressive handiwork, they likely will be underdogs against the Lakers, even though they swept L.A. this season for the first time in their 20-year franchise history.And there might be more good news for the Magic and their fans.They are encouraged by Nelson's rehabilitation so much that they will evaluate the possibility of the all-star playing if the club reaches the NBA Finals against the Lakers, the Sentinel has learned.Vander Weide said the team is exploring whether Nelson can return after undergoing shoulder surgery Feb. 19. He hasn't played since he was injured Feb. 3 against the Dallas Mavericks.Although Nelson wouldn't be in prime condition, Vander Weide said, "the chance to get an all-star point guard on the floor for 15 minutes a game…you'd have to look at that."The Magic had ruled him out for the season and the playoffs, and as late as a week and a half ago General Manager Otis Smith said there was no chance of Nelson making a return. "That was a week and a half ago," said Vander Weide, who said he wanted Nelson to take another MRI and consult with doctors.The Magic got the solid start they needed against the Cavs, and opened up an 18-point halftime lead.Three baskets by Rashard Lewis, a 3-pointer by super sub Mickael Pietrus and Howard's bucket gave the Magic a 44-31 advantage.They stretched it to 16 on point guard Rafer Alston's 3-pointer and rookie Courtney Lee's jumper handed theme a 58-40 lead as a stunned James sat below the basket, begging for a fall call to end the half.They controlled the game from then on, and the Cavs could come no closer than 11 in the second half as fans celebrated like it was 1995. Staples Center on Thursday night.

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