On 13-game winning streak, Magic send Hawks flying

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On 13-game winning streak, Magic send Hawks flying

ATLANTA - Reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando moved within one victory of returning the NBA East finals by routing Atlanta 105-75 on Saturday, the Magic stretching its win streak to 13 games.

Rashard Lewis scored 22 points while Dwight Howard had 21 points and 16 rebounds and Jameer Nelson added 14 points as Orlando seized a 3-0 lead over the Hawks in the best-of-seven playoff series.

“It feels pretty good [to win by so much] but we have to keep our focus and intensity,” Howard said. “We have to not worry about the scoreboard. We are trying to do more than just win one game.”

Orlando extended an unbeaten run that includes the final six games of the regular season and a first-round sweep of Charlotte, and can complete another sweep by winning game four tonight. No team in NBA history has ever recovered from losing the first three games in a series to advance.

“The guys know what we have to do,” Atlanta’s Al Horford said. “It’s just frustrating when the effort isn’t there.”

The Magic has not lost since falling 112-100 at San Antonio on April 2 and Orlando has not dropped back-to-back games in four months, including wins in 27 of their past 30 starts overall.

Orlando won the opener against the Hawks by 43 points and took game two last Thursday by 14, humiliating an Atlanta club that was taken to the maximum seven games by Milwaukee in the first round.

With another victory, the Magic, who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in last year’s NBA Finals, would face either Boston or Cleveland in this year’s Eastern finals. Orlando beat Cleveland in last year’s Eastern finals.

“You can tell they’re hungry,” Atlanta’s Joe Johnson said. “They want to get back to the finals. You can just see it.”

Johnson, who scored only eight points on 3-of-15 shooting, called it “a tough, ugly loss - embarrassing. Guys look to me for guidance. When I’m playing like that, it’s almost impossible for us to win.”

Frenchman Mickael Pietrus added 13 points for the Magic while Matt Barnes had 11 for Orlando, which overwhelmed the Hawks with sheer numbers of hot shooters among starters and reserves.

“We understand that for us to win we have to play together,” Howard said. “We have a lot of shooters and we try to feed off that.”

Jamal Crawford scored 22 points to lead Atlanta, which trailed by 10 or more points for 36 of the game’s 48 minutes.

“They’re as good as anybody out there,” Crawford said. “I think they’re built for a championship.”

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kobe Bryant scored 35 points and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the Utah Jazz for a 111-110 NBA playoff victory Saturday that put them on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference finals.

Ron Artest and Derek Fisher each added 20 points for the reigning NBA champions, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven second-round series and can complete a sweep of the Jazz with a victory in game four Monday at Utah.

“We’ve learned from our past experience. It’s a big factor for us,” Bryant said. “You have to be extremely disciplined and show poise.”

Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 54 seconds remaining to pull the Lakers level at 106 and after Utah’s Deron Williams hit a jumper, Bryant made a clutch pass to Fisher, who drained a 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead 109-108.

Wes Matthews missed a 3-pointer and the Jazz fouled Bryant, who hit two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give the Lakers a 111-108 lead. Fisher then intentionally fouled Williams before he could launch a 3-pointer and the Jazz star hit both free throws to pull the Jazz within 111-110 with 6.1 seconds remaining.

The Lakers’ Ron Artest turned the ball over with a poor throw on the inbound pass and Utah had a last chance for the victory with 4.4 seconds remaining, but Williams missed a 3-pointer and Matthews’ tip-in bid failed at the last buzzer.

Utah led 54-50 at half-time despite Bryant scoring 20 points for the Lakers, who had trailed by as many as 13 points at one stage.

“I thought we played too casual,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.


AFP
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