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Portland drops to 1-8 since firing Cheeks

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Orlando Magic ended a frustrating
stretch -- and they did it without Steve Francis.

Grant Hill had 23 points and eight rebounds, and Orlando snapped
a seven-game losing skid with a 97-92 victory over the Portland
Trail Blazers.

The Magic defeated Portland for the first time since 1998
despite missing Francis. Earlier Saturday, the team scoring and
assists leader was suspended indefinitely by the league for kicking
a courtside photographer during a game in Seattle on Friday.

Francis could miss several games, but his absence didn't matter
this time and Orlando pulled into a tie with Philadelphia for
eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"We are definitely a playoff team," said DeShawn Stevenson,
who had 16 points. "Everybody is believing that."

Rookie Viktor Khryapa had a season-high 21 points on 9-of-10
shooting to lead the Blazers, who have dropped four in a row and
are 1-8 since firing coach Maurice Cheeks. Sebastian Telfair had 16
points and Damon Stoudamire added 13 points and eight assists.

Magic interim coach Chris Jent earned his first victory after
taking over for Johnny Davis, who lost his job Thursday in an
effort to re-energize a languishingly team.

"This was very special," Jent said. "The team gave me the
game ball and it was even more special because Grant Hill gave it
to me."

Magic rookie Jameer Nelson regained his starting role with
Francis out and played one of his most balanced games of the year
with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim had 13 points and seven rebounds for
Portland.

The Magic fell to Seattle in Jent's debut Friday night and came
to Portland having lost to the Blazers 11 straight times. But
Portland is in rebuilding mode under interim coach Kevin Pritchard
and was missing Zach Randolph, Ruben Patterson, Nick Van Exel and
Derek Anderson, all of whom are injured.

"After the game, I told them we have to keep plugging away,"
Pritchard said. "I really wanted to win for them. I wanted the
younger players who've been putting out such good effort to feel
they were part of a win."

Khryapa, a Ukranian drafted by Portland 22nd overall last year,
had 14 points in the first half. He hit a jumper to give Portland a
52-50 lead -- its first since 32-31 -- going into halftime.

Portland shot almost 50 percent, but had 18 turnovers and
allowed too many easy dunks and layins. Orlando built a 90-80 lead
with six minutes left in the game.

Hill's jumper at 4:23 made it 95-84, but Portland scored six in
a row to get within five.

Stoudamire's runner in the lane cut the lead to 95-92 with 33.8
seconds left. But after Hedo Turkaglo missed a shot, Orlando's
Kelvin Cato snagged the rebound and passed to Turkaglo, who was
fouled and made two free throws.

Joel Przybilla had 10 rebounds for the Blazers, but Orlando was
much more physical, getting 48 points in the paint and
outrebounding Portland by seven.

"I thought it was one of our best games of the year," Hill
said.

Game notes
The NBA will investigate further before determining how
long to suspend Francis. Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman
was suspended for 11 games and fined $25,000 for kicking a
cameraman in 1997. ... Theo Ratliff and Darius Miles returned to
the Blazers after missing games last week. ... Dwight Howard shot
just 2-of-11 from the field for the Magic.