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Magic hope to cast spell in LA

LESS than a week after torpedoing the eagerly anticipated Kobe vs. LeBron showdown, the upstart Orlando Magic aim to play giantkillers once more when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association finals.

Written off as an Eastern Conference support act for the LeBron James show, Orlando simply wrote its own script, shocking the Cleveland Cavaliers to win in six games.

Tomorrow morning (Shanghai time), the Magic shoot for their first NBA title in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in Los Angeles.

Again their opponents are more fancied, more glamorous and built around a seemingly unstoppable champion.

The Lakers, cheered on by Hollywood actors and propelled by voracious guard Kobe Bryant, are seeking their 15th NBA title and have become accustomed to the giddy heights of stardom.

The last and only time Orlando made the finals, they were trounced 0-4 by the Houston Rockets in 1995, when a young Shaquille O'Neal was prowling the paint for the Magic.

Adding weight to their task is the Lakers' Phil Jackson, determined to restore Los Angeles' hegemony after its loss to the Boston Celtics in the finals last year, and clinch a record 10th NBA title as coach.

"There is kind of a death march to come into the finals, to watch other teams disappear," said Jackson, who shares nine titles with Red Auerbach.

"We're still standing here with only one other team left, a good team, and we're anticipating a really good final."

A title may also mean a measure of redemption for 30-year-old Bryant, stung by comments from former Lakers general manager Jerry West that James had surpassed him as the league's best player.

"A lot of players have been in this situation (NBA finals) just once in their career," said Bryant, in search of his fourth championship ring. "I've been fortunate to be here for a sixth time."

For Orlando, which stunned MVP James and the Cavaliers, much of its hopes lie on the shoulders of All-Star center Dwight Howard who scored a playoff career-best 40 points on Saturday in Game 6 of the Eastern finals.

Jackson has hinted that the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year can expect close attention from his giant centers, Andrew Bynum, Spaniard Pau Gasol and D J Mbenga.


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