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Kobe dazzles in series opener

KOBE Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers produced a dazzling display at both ends of the floor to crush the Orlando Magic 100-75 in the opening game of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Bryant scored 40 points and had eight assists and eight rebounds for the Lakers, seeking their first title since 2002.

Last year's league MVP scored 18 points in the third quarter when the Lakers turned a 10-point half-time lead into an 82-58 blowout with a quarter to play.

Bryant displayed emotion rarely seen during his 13-year career, perhaps wanting to prove to LeBron James that he is not yet ready to cede the title as the NBA's best player.

"I just want it really bad," a jubilant Bryant told reporters.

"You just put everything you have into the game and your emotions kind of flow out of you. I feel great. This is the best I've felt late in the season in my whole career. I feel outstanding."

The 30-year-old, 11-time All-Star hit 16 of 34 shots, scoring a career high in the NBA Finals. He weaved through the lane for acrobatic lay-ups, nailed pull-up jumpers, and dribbled by team mates' picks for open shots.

"Offensively he was amazing," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who had 11 points and 14 rebounds. "Defensively, as well. When he gets it going, he's one of the best players of all time."

Los Angeles shot 46 percent from the floor but it was its suffocating defense that was key to the dominating win.

The Lakers double and triple-teamed Dwight Howard, limiting the All-Star center to 12 points, on just one of six shooting.

When he kicked the ball outside, his teammates misfired.

"Tonight was just an off night. As a team we only made 23 shots and Kobe made 16 by himself," said Howard.

"We've never had a shooting night this bad. We came out flat.

"We may lose games because we miss shots, but when our energy is as low as it was tonight, we can't win."

Orlando shot just 29.9 percent from the floor, including eight of 23 from beyond the arc, and was out-rebounded 55-41.

"It's pretty hard to find a champion who hasn't at some point in their playoff run gotten their butts beat by 20 plus," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.

"San Antonio did it every year in their playoff runs. The margin, it's disappointing, but it's still one win for them. They don't get two for it."

The Magic stopped the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals by consistently hitting outside shot but their bombers were silenced by the Lakers' pressure defense.

"Things just didn't go right for them tonight," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is shooting for his record 10th title as a coach.


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