ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) –
The Orlando Magic crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-90 on Saturday to claim the Eastern Conference championship and set up an NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dwight Howard, who likes to be called Superman, played the role to perfection, scoring a playoff-career best 40 points and grabbing 14 rebounds as the Magic won the best-of-seven Eastern series in six games.
“He was incredible,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters. “I don't know what else he could have done. He was fantastic.”
League MVP LeBron James had 25 points for Cleveland, who posted the NBA's best regular-season record but could not overcome match-up problems with the outside-shooting Magic.
“It seemed like they shot 100 percent from three(-point range) for the whole series; it was tough to guard,” Cleveland's Mo Williams added.
“Going into the playoffs, we were confident we were going to the NBA Finals, we were confident we were going to win it. Obviously it hurts inside because you know you had the team to get it done.”
James, who had seven rebounds and seven assists, did not talk to reporters after the game, heading instead straight to the team bus, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported.
The NBA Finals begin in Los Angeles on Thursday, where the Western Conference champions will make a record 30th Finals appearance. They lost to the Boston Celtics in six games in 2008.
Orlando was swept by the Houston Rockets in four games in 1995 in its only previous finals.
The Magic, who beat the Cavaliers in five consecutive games in Orlando this season, zipped to a five-point first-quarter lead behind Howard's 13 points.
The lead grew to 18 points by halftime as James was held scoreless in the second quarter.
Cleveland scored the first eight points of the second half, but Orlando remained in control behind Howard and a strong defense.
Rashard Lewis added 18 points and Mickael Pietrus contributed 14. Cleveland got 22 points from Delonte West and 17 from Williams.
“We had a heck of a season,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “But we had one goal in mind and we came up short.
“He (Howard) was a monster tonight. We threw a lot of different things at him and he was patient and eight out of 10 times he made the right play.”
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)