Orlando 94, Miami 68

ORLANDO, Fla., April 18 (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal finally did the Orlando Magic a favor: He didn't play in the regular-season finale.

It ended up not mattering.

Grant Hill scored 17 points, Hedo Turkoglu added 15 and Orlando beat the undermanned Heat 94-68 Wednesday night, the Magic's sixth victory in seven games.

The Magic could have moved up to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and avoided a first-round matchup against Detroit. But Washington beat Indiana later Wednesday, securing Orlando as the No. 8 seed.

The Magic will open at Detroit this weekend. They were 0-4 against the Pistons this season.

"It's going to be a challenge for us,'' Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. "But like I kept saying all season: We accept all challenges, and I think we can beat anybody in a seven-game series.''

Orlando certainly got a break in the finale, playing the Heat without stars O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Coach Pat Riley also rested guard Jason Williams and forward Eddie Jones. In all, Miami went without five of its usual players. James Posey (sprained wrist and shoulder) also was inactive.

Orlando's starters took advantage of the mismatch, outscoring the Heat 26-10 in the third quarter to build a huge lead they never relinquished.

Sure, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker were on the floor at times for the Heat. But the defending NBA champions also played long stretches with Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien, Jason Kapono, Chris Quinn and Dorell Wright - a unit that performed much more like the Miami Lukewarm.

Wright led the Heat with 17 points and eight rebounds. Simien had 10 points.

The Heat were locked into the No. 4 seed, leaving them with little to play for against the Magic. They learned after the game they will face Chicago in the opening round.

"It's time to get on,'' Riley said. "It's been a real arduous week for me, just sort of waiting and looking at two different teams (in the first round) and trying to get things accomplished.''

Orlando led 39-37 at halftime, but started making jumpers from everywhere and beating the Heat up and down the court. The Magic opened the third quarter with a 23-6 run that turned a close game into a laugher.

Hill had two buckets in the decisive spurt. Turkoglu made four shots, including two 3-pointers. Dwight Howard, who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds, chipped in a dunk, a layup and a free throw.

Jameer Nelson and Tony Battie also got into the mix.

"They made up their minds they were going to win the game in the third period,'' Magic coach Brian Hill said. "Obviously, it was not a full-strength Miami team. We understand that.''

The victory gave Orlando plenty of momentum heading into the postseason, even though the franchise has lost its last five first-round series.

The Magic are returning to the playoffs for the first time in four years. But they haven't won a postseason series since O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Horace Grant carried them to the Eastern Conference finals in 1996 - a loss to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

O'Neal bolted for Los Angeles the following summer, turning down more money with Orlando to play for the Lakers. O'Neal has won four championships since.

Riley made the decision to sit O'Neal and Wade solely to prevent them from getting hurt before the playoffs.

"Maybe Miami was trying to help us,'' Brian Hill said. "Pat's a pretty benevolent guy. ... It cost me a lot of money to keep them two out of the lineup.''

When Riley was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers in 1983, he lost forward James Worthy to a broken leg in the final week of the season - one of the reasons, he thinks, why those Lakers were unable to defend their title.

He isn't taking any risks with the two most important players for the defending champs.

"Now we really get a chance to defend it,'' Riley said. "I think we're relatively healthy. The guys are eager and excited to get on with the real party, so that's what it's about now.''

Notes: O'Neal's streak of averaging 20-plus points every season is over. O'Neal averaged 17.3 points this season, his 15th in the NBA - which means that even if he did play on Wednesday, he would have needed to score 130 points to get to the 20.0 mark. ... The Heat used their 20th different starting lineup of the regular season. ... The Magic played without backup C Darko Milicic, who has a right mid-foot sprain and could miss the start of the playoffs. Milicic, who injured his foot at Washington on Tuesday, was listed as day-to-day. His return depended on how he responded to treatment.


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