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NBA PLAYOFFS

Not quite what they had in mind

There's no Kobe-LeBron matchup, thanks to Dwight Howard's Magical playoff run.

June 04, 2009|Lisa Dillman

Dream, interrupted.

Oh yes, there would be the NBA Finals between Olympic gold-medal winning teammates, one playing on the West Coast and the other plying his trade in the Eastern time zone.

But not the one hatched, post-Beijing, and breathlessly promoted/hyped for months on end. All the way from glossy magazines to twitter to, well puppetry.

Who knew Orlando's Dwight Howard (a.k.a. Superman) would end up pulling the puppet strings, and yank LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers right out of their supposedly preordained spot in the NBA Finals against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

The Magic's run went through the Philadelphia 76ers, the reigning champion Boston Celtics in seven games, and, finally, the Cavaliers, owners of the league's best regular-season record and guided by the MVP James. In the West, the Lakers survived playoff tumult too, most of it self-inflicted, beating the Utah Jazz, the Houston Rockets in seven and the Denver Nuggets in six. This is the Lakers' 30th appearance in the finals and the Magic's second.

By the numbers

2-0: Orlando swept the Lakers for the first time in franchise history as Howard averaged 21.5 points and 16 rebounds in those two regulars season games.

32-10: The Magic with point guard Jameer Nelson in the lineup; Nelson had shoulder surgery on Feb. 19.

3.3: What Trevor Ariza was averaging in points with the Magic under Coach Stan Van Gundy's watch before he was traded to the Lakers early in the 2007-08 season. Ariza, in these playoffs, is averaging 11.4 points and shooting 50% from three-point range.

Six degrees of Shaq

Just call Shaquille O'Neal, the original self-described Superman, the Kevin Bacon of this series.

The man who led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 1995, in which the Magic was swept by Houston, seemingly has connections to everyone involved. Or if he doesn't, he'll be tweeting about them.

Kobe Bryant

Can he win his first NBA championship without one-time wingman O'Neal, the larger-than-life sidekick?

Van Gundy

This season, O'Neal called his one-time coach (in Miami) the "master of panic" and that he despised "front-runners." Van Gundy wisely noted he was in good company with former O'Neal targets: Pat Riley and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson.

Well, at least O'Neal didn't make any rap videos about Van Gundy. Then again, he played only one-plus season for him, a blink compared with his soap opera-life with Bryant.

Howard in charge

The Magic is 6-2 since Howard called out his coach and teammates in the Boston series.

Matching up

The two best showdowns, the game within the game.

1. Howard vs. Andrew Bynum (and others). Bynum picked up nine fouls in the two-regular season games, both losses, against Howard and the Magic. Little has prepared the Lakers for the likes of Howard, the NBA's defensive player of the year. Not Mehmet Okur, Yao Ming or Nene.

Double-teaming Howard? Do so at your own risk, which the Cavaliers discovered, and it could open the floodgates for the Magic's three-point shooters Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston.

Plan A to deal with Howard? Dial, P-A-U. As in Pau Gasol.

2. Speaking of Gasol, he could be engaged in another crucial matchup, this one with 6-10 Lewis. In the regular season, Lewis led the league with 220 three-pointers and shot 48.4% from distance against Cleveland in the Eastern finals.

Injury update

Orlando: Where amazing (healing) happens.

Suddenly, there is talk, serious chatter, that Nelson may be ready to play in the Finals. No matter that the penetrating, difficult-to-contain point guard hasn't played in a game since Feb. 2

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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