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Published: Wednesday, 5/27/2009

Howard s 27 helps Magic push Cavaliers to brink

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ORLANDO, Fla. After four heartbreaking losses on last-second shots during the postseason, the Orlando Magic finally had one go their way.

This time, the ball bounced off the rim not through it.

And when the latest thriller ended, a relieved Stan Van Gundy worried about his uncle, who just underwent triple bypass heart surgery.

I hope he s resting, Orlando s coach said. I certainly hope he didn t watch.

Dwight Howard scored 10 points in overtime and the rapid-fire Magic made a team playoff-record 17 3-pointers and then held their breath as LeBron James missed one for a 116-114 victory on Tuesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers that opened a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

James, whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer downed the Magic in Game 2, was just off the mark with a 35-footer at the horn.

It felt good leaving my hand said James, who had 44 points. It just didn t go in.

The Magic, who have overcome injuries, double-digit deficits and a recent spat between Howard and Van Gundy, need just one win to make the NBA finals for the first time since 1995.

You can almost taste it, said Rafer Alston, the former streetball legend who scored 26 points, 15 in the third quarter. We ve got to win one more game, and it s not going to be easy.

The Magic won a Game 7 in Boston to eliminate the defending champion Celtics in the last round. Now, they can close out the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Thursday night.

Howard finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds and again made his free throws 7 of 9 and Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus had 17 points each for Orlando, an overlooked team now on the brink of knocking out the Cavs, the league s best team all season.

We have an excellent opportunity in front of us, said Howard. We can t think that anything s going to be easy. As a team, we believe that every time we step on the floor and play our brand of basketball we can win.

James added 12 rebounds and seven assists, but he had eight turnovers for the Cavs, who must now win three straight games two of them at home.

We had our chances, James said. We didn t execute. You move on to the next game. We are looking forward to the challenge. I know I am.

After Lewis made one of two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to give the Magic the 116-114 lead, the Cavs had one last chance.

When James 3-point attempt fell short, Van Gundy exhaled.

With LeBron James on the court, doesn t 3.2 seconds seem like two minutes? Van Gundy asked. We had two guys on him and he made a move like a tight end, caught the ball and still got off a reasonable shot. This guy is unbelievable. The stuff that he is doing in this series is unbelievable.

James played the entire second half and overtime. He has scored more than 40 in three games in the series and Cleveland has lost them all.

Mo Williams, who guaranteed the Cavs would win Game 4 and the series, scored 18 points, none after the third quarter and continued to struggle with his shot. Delonte West added 17 points for the Cavaliers, who aren t giving James nearly enough help.

We put our hat on King James, Williams said. We tried to let him bring us home. And he did. Almost.

Along with Howard, the Magic have history on their side heading into Game 5. Teams with a 3-1 lead are a staggering 182-8 in series dating to 1947.

Philadelphia beat Orlando twice in the first round on final shots and Boston got the Magic once before James dagger in Game 2. It would have been easy to fold, but the adversity has only fueled Orlando s fire.

Howard and his teammates feel they haven t gotten the respect they re due. It could be coming soon.

I m happy with our progress, Howard said. I m not satisfied. We haven t won anything yet. We won a couple games. So what? We want the respect after winning the championship.

For the Magic to do that, Howard had better watch his mouth.

He picked up his sixth technical foul of the playoffs for taunting Anderson Varejao in the fourth quarter after a hard foul. One more, and he ll be suspended one game.

I might have to get some duct tape, Howard said.



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