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Published: Friday, 5/22/2009

Magic puts Cavaliers in must-win situation

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - The 24-second shot clock has been fixed. The Cleveland Cavaliers are next on the repairs-to-do list.

The Orlando Magic caused some extensive collateral damage with a stunning win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

They exposed Cleveland's depth, shredded its defense, snatched home-court advantage and put the NBA's top-seeded team in an unfamiliar position - behind in a series and desperate for a win heading into Game 2 tonight.

"We're looking at it as a must win," MVP LeBron James said before practice yesterday.

"It's obvious," Cavs guard Mo Williams said, echoing the must-win sentiment. "My grandma knows that. Yeah, it's a must win."

Behind a torrent of clutch 3-pointers - the winner by Rashard Lewis with 14.7 seconds left - and Dwight Howard's broad shoulders, the Magic muscled its way into Cleveland's noisy arena and rallied for a stunning 107-106 victory that may have altered the perception that the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the postseason.

This is no smoke-and-mirrors Magic act. Orlando is the real deal.

Howard set the tone by busting one of the shot clocks with a vicious dunk in the opening minutes, a we're-here-to-play moment that stunned a Cleveland crowd that later shuffled out of the building wondering what went wrong after seeing the Cavs lose on their home floor for just the third time in 46 games.

After yesterday's practice, Howard, standing near the same basket, was asked if he was done breaking things.

"No," he said, flashing a smile. "Not yet."

"I don't even think most of the nation knows that we're in this series," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Magic's light workout at Quicken Loans Arena. "It doesn't bother me and I don't think it bothers our guys. That's the way it is. Look, they won 66 games. They swept through two rounds of the playoffs. They've got the most valuable player in the league."

The Magic, a mercurial squad that can dazzle one minute and disappear the next, fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter of Game 1 and were down 15 at halftime. But urged by the fiery Van Gundy, they kept chipping away and fighting.

Orlando shot 59 percent after halftime, went 7-of-13 on 3s and outscored the Cavs 59-43. Now 9-3 in their last 12 games against Cleveland, the Magic survived an ungodly playoff performance by James (49 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds) to hand the Cavs their first loss in nine postseason games.

But the Cavaliers seemed to have shaken off any shock from the loss when they gathered at their suburban training facility to prepare for Game 2.

In the opener, James was bothered by leg cramps in the fourth quarter that became so severe he was forced to call a timeout for treatment. He blamed part of his fatigue on the long layoff since the Cavs swept Atlanta.

James said he was physically fine and mentally refreshed.

"I hate to lose, so I was sick after the game," he said. "But today is a new day. I'm fine."

NUGGETS 106, LAKERS 103

LOS ANGELES - Kenyon Martin hit a layup in traffic with 29 seconds left, and Chauncey Billups made three of four free throws to help Denver even the series. Carmelo Anthony had 34 points and 14 rebounds, Billups had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Linas Kleiza added 16 points for the Nuggets. Kobe Bryant had 32 points for the Lakers.



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