Howard, Magic make Cavs disappear; to face Lakers in finals

The Sports Network

5/31/2009 1:39:49 AM

Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - The Orlando Magic took down the Cavaliers and reigning MVP LeBron James. Now they'll try to do the same against last year's top player.

Dwight Howard scored 40 points and pulled down 14 rebounds as the Magic pounded Cleveland, 103-90, to clinch the Eastern Conference finals in six games and set up a date with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the title series, starting next Thursday in Los Angeles.

Rashard Lewis added 18 points for Orlando, which gained its second NBA Finals berth, joining the team from 14 years ago. In 1995, the Magic, who were swept in the championship series by Houston, were led by the power of center Shaquille O'Neal.

Orlando has another force in the low blocks this time with Howard, the current Defensive Player of the Year. Superman surely has the Magic flying high, and he played with great fervor in Game 6, going 14-of-21 from the field, making 12-of-16 free throws and also dishing out four assists.

James scored 25 for the Cavs, who staved off elimination with a 112-102 win on Thursday, but two nights later were no match for Orlando's intensity and long- distance shooting. The Magic ended 12-of-29 from three-point range.

James, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists, was just 8-of-20 from the field.

The Magic held James scoreless during the pivotal second quarter and he was limited to four in the final quarter. Orlando turned a five-point lead at the start of the second to a 58-40 cushion at the half. Then, leading by 16 entering the fourth, the Magic pulled away for good.

Delonte West tallied 22 points for the Cavaliers, who held the league's best regular season record, a game ahead of the Lakers. It also means another year of title disappointment for Cleveland, a city that hasn't won a major sports championship since 1964, when the Browns captured the NFL crown. It's the longest drought for any city with three majors sports franchises. The Cavs made it to the 2007 NBA Finals before being swept by San Antonio.

The Lakers, led by the 2008 MVP Bryant, finished off Denver in six games in the West finals on Friday. They're making a return trip to the NBA Finals, having lost to Boston last year. LA hasn't won the title since 2002, the last of its three consecutive championships.

Orlando beat the Lakers in both meetings during the regular season, but the combined margin of victory was only nine points. In those two games, Howard totaled 43 points and 32 rebounds, while perennial All-Star Bryant scored 69. The big difference though could be the absence of Jameer Nelson. He scored 27 and 28 points for Orlando for the two games, but is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Howard started establishing powerful position in the low post early, notching 13 first-quarter points in a game the Magic never trailed. His layup followed by Courtney Lee's jumper provided a 30-20 cushion inside a minute remaining in the period. Wally Szczerbiak drilled a three-pointer and James then followed his own missed three with a tip-in just before the buzzer for a 30-25 margin.

James missed all three shots he took in the second quarter, while Lewis and Howard combined for 17 of Orlando's 28 points.

A jumper from Zydrunas Ilgauskas brought the Cavs within 37-31 with nine minutes left in the half, but Mickael Pietrus nailed one of his four three- pointers on the night, and Lewis followed with a layup to open another double- digit lead.

A Lewis three-ball and a Howard slam widened the margin to 49-34 with nearly 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the quarter. By the intermission, Orlando was hitting at a 53.7 percent clip from the field (22-of-41).

Cavs coach Mike Brown was whistled for a technical foul at the end of the half, but after Lewis made the free throw, Cleveland rattled off the ensuing eight points over a 56-second span.

The Cavs, though, never got within single digits in the second half. James drained two free throws for a 69-58 difference, but Hedo Turkoglu sank a three-pointer.

Howard's putback slam moved the cushion to 84-68 in the last minute of the third, and the margin stood at a comfortable 86-70 moving to the fourth.

Pietrus and Lewis each drilled three-pointers during the first half of the last quarter, stemming any momentum the Cavs tried to muster. Howard's emphatic jam with just over two minutes left, put the finishing touches on the monumental victory.

Game Notes: Pietrus scored 14, Rafer Alston 13 and Turkoglu 10 for the Magic, while Mo Williams netted 17 and Anderson Varejao 14 for the Cavs...Cleveland made half of its 22 free throws.