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Cavs one step away from franchise's first Finals trip

CLEVELAND -- Orange, blue and white uniforms and
thigh-hugging shorts. Mark Price ran the point, Brad Daugherty
manned the middle and Craig Ehlo's defensive assignment was not a
fun one: guarding Michael Jordan.

Remember those Cleveland Cavaliers?

Well, when that Lenny Wilkens-coached crew made the NBA's
Eastern Conference finals, CDs were just out of their wrappers and
Johnny Carson was days away from his goodbye to late-night TV.

It was 1992. LeBron James was 7.

"I wasn't even playing organized sports," he said last week.

Fifteen years later, James and the Cavaliers are again among pro
basketball's final four.

Cleveland, a franchise teetering on extinction before James'
arrival four years ago, advanced to the conference finals for just
the third time with an 88-72 win in Game 6 against the New Jersey
Nets on Friday night.

James fought off foul trouble to finish with 23 points, eight
rebounds and eight assists for the Cavaliers, who will meet the
Detroit Pistons in Game 1 on Monday night in Auburn Hills, Mich.

"This is uncharted water for us," Cavs coach Mike Brown said.
"This team obviously has not been there, so it's a nice step for
us because we made it to the semifinals last year. We're excited
about it, we're confident about it and we're looking forward to
it."

The series opener will come exactly one year since Cleveland's
2006 season ended with a Game 7 loss in the conference semis to the
Pistons, whose vicelike defense strangled James in the second half
of a 79-61 win.

However, those Cavaliers were not as (post)seasoned as this
year's squad, which has more offensive options than a year ago and
doesn't have to rely nearly as much on James to do it all -- all the
time.

In Friday's win, Cleveland's superstar, who at times has been
too deferential during these playoffs, got a huge assist from two
forgotten veteran teammates. Donyell Marshall celebrated his 34th
birthday with 18 points -- all on 3-pointers -- and Damon Jones,
better known for his flashy wardrobe than defense, helped hold
Vince Carter without a field goal in the fourth quarter.

Their contributions, along with some clutch outside shooting by
rookie Daniel Gibson, showcased both Cleveland's depth and perhaps
a deeper resolve by the Cavaliers to make an already special season
one to remember.

"It was big how guys stepped up," James said. "We have some
true professionals on our team who were called upon, and they
answered the call."

While waiting around for Brown to holler their names, Marshall
and Jones were among a group of reserves who have been playing on
the practice court in Quicken Loans Arena on game days to stay
sharp.

"LeBron and Larry [Hughes] and them would laugh at us talking
about, 'What are you guys doing? We got a game,'" Marshall said. "We knew we weren't playing but we wanted to stay in the best kind of shape possible
for these situations. That's the sign of a true professional."

Until now, the Cavs have had a relatively clear path. As the No.
2 seed, Cleveland had little trouble sweeping the seventh-seeded
Washington Wizards, who were missing injured All-Stars Gilbert
Arenas and Caron Butler.

The sixth-seeded Nets were tougher, beating Cleveland at home in
a close-out game before going down on their own floor in six.

Now come the Pistons, the No. 1 seed making a fifth straight
trip to the conference finals. They are the only team left between
Cleveland and the NBA finals. The Cavaliers, formed as an expansion
team in 1970, have never played for the title.

"I am tired of losing to those guys," Drew Gooden said.

Back in '92, it was Jordan who denied the Cavs a spot in the
finals as Chicago eliminated Cleveland in six games. And as it was
for Jordan, the Pistons are the final hurdle for the 22-year-old
James, who made it to the conference finals a season sooner than
his boyhood idol.

He has been criticized for not being more like Mike, for not
taking over games as the more famous No. 23 once did.

"It's about winning, isn't it?" James said. "It's not about
me going out there and scoring 35 points a night and losing. We're
in a business where we're all about winning, and we're moving on."