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Lakers top Rockets to join Magic in the finals

THE top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers finally saw off the under-strength Houston Rockets with a crushing 89-70 victory on Sunday to advance to the Western Conference finals.

In the East, Hedo Turkoglu had 25 points and 12 assists as the Orlando Magic dethroned the Boston Celtics with a convincing 101-82 victory over the National Basketball Association champions.

Forward Pau Gasol posted a game-high 21 points and 18 rebounds, while Trevor Ariza added 15 points as the Lakers clinched the best-of-seven series 4-3 at Staples Center.

Watched by a capacity crowd, including Hollywood actors Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman, the home team charged 20 points clear by halftime and never relinquished its grip.

"Our activity level was pretty good on the defensive end and we changed the game right off the bat," Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters. "It was the prettiest game."

Houston, which had forced a decider despite missing All-Star center Yao Ming since Game 3, was outclassed by a Los Angeles outfit continually mixing tight defense with swift counter-attacks.

Lakers center Andrew Bynum produced his best game of the series, shooting 14 points and six rebounds, while All-Star guard Kobe Bryant weighed in with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Guard Aaron Brooks top-scored for the Rockets with 13 points on four-for-13 shooting and Argentine forward Luis Scola contributed 11 but the dangerous Ron Artest was limited to just seven.

The Lakers will meet the Denver Nuggets in the best-of-seven conference finals, with the series opener in Los Angeles tomorrow.

In Boston, the Magic led for most of the game and pulled away from the Celtics in the final quarter to win the series 4-3 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

Orlando will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers for a place in the NBA finals.

"We had a lot of confidence and these guys always believed in each other," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We had to prove ourselves over and over all season and we really proved what kind of a team we are tonight."

Dwight Howard added 12 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Magic, who hit 13 of their 21 three-point attempts and led for all but 36 seconds in the game.

Ray Allen scored 23 points and Paul Pierce had 16 for Boston, which battled back to a 3-2 lead in the series after struggling in earlier games.

The 17-time NBA champions Celtics had never lost a playoff series after being ahead 3-2, but squandered a 10-point lead to lose Game 6 in Orlando last Thursday.


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