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Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic enter the NBA Finals

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Orlando VS Magic
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic enter the National Basketball Association Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in a familiar role: as underdogs.
June 1 (Bloomberg) --

It’s an opportunity Howard relishes after helping Orlando eliminate the defending-champion Boston Celtics and then LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to reach the NBA Finals, which open this week in Los Angeles.

Howard said he felt slighted by a television commercial during the conference finals that touted a possible NBA Finals matchup between James and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the league’s most popular players. Now, the 23-year-old center nicknamed “Superman” has his first chance at a championship.

“Every time I looked at TV and turned on ESPN it was all about Kobe and LeBron getting to the Finals,” Howard, who is averaging 21.7 points and
15.4 rebounds a game in the playoffs, said on his Web site. “I’ve been telling everybody that we have the team and the talent to do this. When we run, rebound and defend, there aren’t many teams out there that can beat us.”

Orlando is playing for the championship for just the second time in the franchise’s 20-year history, having been swept by Houston after the
1994-95 season. No current Magic player has ever appeared in the Finals.

The Lakers have captured 14 NBA championships, including three straight with Bryant from 2000-02. They’re 2-5 favorites to win, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which advises Nevada sports books on betting lines. At those odds, a winning $100 bet on the Lakers, who lost to Boston in last year’s finals, would return a $40 profit.

‘Best Player in the World’

“The Lakers have home-court advantage, they had an extra day rest over the Magic, they’ve got the best player in the world in Kobe Bryant, a better record and more experience,” Las Vegas Sports Consultants senior oddsmaker Mike Seba said in a telephone interview.

The best-of-seven NBA Finals begin in Los Angeles, with the first two games scheduled for June 4 and 7. The Lakers are six- point favorites in Game 1 at the Staples Center.

“We didn’t get the job accomplished last year,” Bryant, 30, told reporters after the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
“Hopefully we will this time.”

The Magic beat the Lakers twice during the regular season, winning 106-103 in Orlando on Dec. 20 and 109-103 in Los Angeles on Jan. 16. Both wins came before starting point guard Jameer Nelson, who totaled 55 points against the Lakers, suffered what the team said was a season-ending shoulder injury in February.

Nelson will meet with doctors this week to evaluate his rehabilitation and determine whether he might return for the finals, the Magic said yesterday.

Orlando’s Success

Orlando overcame the loss of Nelson to finish third in the Eastern Conference with a 59-23 record.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Magic rallied from a 2-1 series deficit against the Philadelphia 76ers. Orlando then became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-2 deficit against the Celtics before eliminating the Cavaliers, who had the NBA’s best regular-season record.

“Our reward is you get to go from preparing for LeBron to preparing for Kobe,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said at a news conference after winning the Eastern Conference title.

Bryant, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2007-08, averaged 34.5 points in his two games against the Magic this season. He’s averaging 29.6 points a game this postseason and his experience is one reason the Lakers are favored to claim a 15th title.

While the 6-foot-11 Howard has played in only 32 career playoff games to Bryant’s 170, he cautions not to take the Magic lightly. The Cavaliers were 1-8 favorites over Orlando in the East finals and lost in six games.

“Nobody will think we have a shot at winning this series,” said Howard, who led the NBA in rebounding the past four years and was voted the league’s best defensive player this season. “But I believe and I know my teammates believe. We play the way we know how and maybe we can make everybody out there across the country believe in the Magic.”
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