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Published on Jun 1, 2009
Dwight Howard dominated inside for 40 points, Rashard Lewis added 18 and the overlooked Magic wrecked the Kobe-LeBron dream finals with a 103-90 victory over James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference championship Saturday night.
Fourteen frustrating years since their last appearance, the Magic are back from ruin.
"I don't think people thought we could be at this level,'' coach Stan Van Gundy said.
The Magic will be making their first finals appearance since 1995, one year before Shaquille O'Neal bolted as a free agent for Los Angeles and wrecked the franchise. Six years ago they won just 21 games, a low point that helped them draft Howard with No. 1 pick.
It's been a long, slow climb back, but Orlando has been rebuilt and will meet the Lakers on Thursday night at the Staples Center in Game 1.
Disney World vs. Disneyland.
Oh, and memo to Nike executives: It's time to break out the Howard puppet. LeBron's can go in summer storage.
For now, the only matchup between James and Lakers superstar Bryant will have to be limited to those cute TV commercials.
With the city's most famous athlete, Tiger Woods, sitting courtside, Orlando dropped 12 3-pointers and made believers of all those who wondered if they were better than the Cavaliers, a team that won 66 games in the regular season, or the defending champion Celtics.
The Magic made both disappear.
"For us as a team, we understand how everybody has talked about us for the last couple of years,'' Howard said. "We can beat anybody.''