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Los Angeles Lakers, behind Kobe Bryant, defeat Orlando Magic in Game 1 of NBA Finals

Lakers star Kobe Bryant drives as Orlando’s Courtney Lee defends. Bryant scores 40 to lead the Lakers in the opener.

Associated Press

Lakers star Kobe Bryant drives as Orlando’s Courtney Lee defends. Bryant scores 40 to lead the Lakers in the opener.

LOS ANGELES — One step toward redemption, one step toward a ring.

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers began the NBA Finals on Thursday night with power and purpose.

Bryant, playing like a man possessed, scored 40 and the Lakers, who have waited nearly one year for a chance to erase bitter memories of a Boston beatdown and a championship they felt belonged to them, pounded the Magic 100-75 in Game 1.

This year, nothing short of a 15th title will do for the Lakers.

And with the sensational Bryant out front, they might be on their way. He scored 18 in the third quarter as the Lakers opened a 26-point lead.

The last time the Lakers were seen in the Finals, they were heading toward their locker room in Boston last June and a summer break after being drubbed by 39 points in a series-ending Game 6 by the Celtics.

Bryant and his teammates have used that humiliation to motivate them all season and throughout these playoffs.

The Magic, 2-0 against the Lakers in the regular season, appeared a touch overwhelmed in its first Finals appearance since 1995.

Not even the return of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson from a four-month layoff after shoulder surgery could help the Eastern Conference champion.

Center Dwight Howard was engulfed by two and three Lakers every time he touched the ball and scored 12 — 10 on free throws — on just 1-of-6 shooting.

"We did a good job on him, but he'll be ready to go Game 2," Bryant said. "We worked very hard on the perimeter, keeping those guys out of rhythm, then we did a good job on him inside — giving him different looks."

And the Magic's outside shooters, so deadly while eliminating MVP LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference final, were off the mark.

The Magic went just 8-of-23 on 3s and shot 30 percent overall.

Orlando led early, sparked by the return of Nelson — who had been out since February after shoulder surgery — but the momentum was quickly lost under a flurry of missed shots. The Magic wasn't far from the worst shooting effort in Finals history, Syracuse's 27.5 percent performance against Fort Wayne in 1955.

Now Orlando faces some daunting odds, too. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, seeking a record 10th title, is 43-0 in series in which his team wins Game 1.

Orlando was within 59-50 with 7:54 left in the third quarter. But Bryant scored 12 during a 23-6 run that put the game away.

"He was great. He was tremendous," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who felt his team did a poor job defending the Lakers' pick and roll. "We were giving him too much space on his pull-up jumpers, and he did a good job of attacking us. I know this: We are a lot better than we showed."

Nelson sat the first quarter, but Van Gundy started him in the second and the healed guard made an immediate impact. Nelson made a bounce pass to Marcin Gortat for a dunk on Orlando's first possession in the quarter. Nelson then set up Rashard Lewis for a 3 before making his first basket in four months on a short baseline jumper.

ORLANDO (75): Turkoglu 3-11 6-6 13, Lewis 2-10 2-2 8, Howard 1-6 10-16 12, Alston 2-9 2-2 6, Lee 3-10 0-0 7, Pietrus 5-13 1-3 14, Battie 1-3 0-0 2, Gortat 2-4 0-0 4, Nelson 3-9 0-0 6, Redick 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 23-77 21-29 75.

L.A. LAKERS (100): Ariza 1-4 0-0 3, Gasol 7-12 2-2 16, Bynum 3-8 3-4 9, Fisher 4-6 0-0 9, Bryant 16-34 8-8 40, Odom 5-11 1-2 11, Walton 4-5 1-2 9, Farmar 0-3 0-0 0, Vujacic 0-1 0-0 0, Powell 1-2 0-0 3, Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Mbenga 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 41-89 15-18 100.

Orlando 24 19 15 17— 75

L.A. Lakers 22 31 29 18— 100

3-Point GoalsOrlando 8-23 (Pietrus 3-5, Lewis 2-4, Redick 1-1, Turkoglu 1-3, Lee 1-4, Nelson 0-2, Alston 0-4), L.A. Lakers 3-9 (Fisher 1-1, Powell 1-1, Ariza 1-2, Bryant 0-1, Farmar 0-1, Odom 0-3). Fouled Out—None. ReboundsOrlando 49 (Howard 15), L.A. Lakers 64 (Odom 14). AssistsOrlando 10 (Nelson 4), L.A. Lakers 18 (Bryant 8). Total FoulsOrlando 21, L.A. Lakers 23. A18,997 (18,997).

Lakers vs. Magic
Thurs. at Los Angeles, 9, Ch. 28
Sunday at Los Angeles, 8, Ch. 28
June 9 at Orlando, 9, Ch. 28
June 11 at Orlando, 9, Ch. 28
June 14 at Orlando, 8, Ch. 28*
June 16 at Los Angeles, 9, Ch. 28*
June 18 at Los Angeles, 9, Ch. 28 *

* if needed

Los Angeles Lakers, behind Kobe Bryant, defeat Orlando Magic in Game 1 of NBA Finals 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 1:05am]

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