Basketball: Amaechi revels in role of Magic's free throw spirit

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The Independent Online
ORLANDO'S GANG of journeymen and their inspirational Englishman, John Amaechi, defied the experts again by claiming their third scalp on the trot in the National Basketball Association. The Magic, who ranked near the bottom of the NBA in most pre-season forecasts, came from behind to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 110-105 on Wednesday for their fourth win of the season.

Allen Iverson, The Sixers' flamboyant guard, contributed 46 points - 36 in the second half - and they led 89-88 in the fourth quarter, but Orlando's Monty Williams buried a short jumpshot to put the Magic in front.

Amaechi, a former Sheffield Shark, scored five of his 13 points in the last minute, tipping in a missed shot to extend the lead to five, and then making two free throws after being fouled following an offensive rebound. It is in the free throw department where Amaechi, whom defenders are struggling to contain under the basket, is earning his living. He made seven of 10 from the line on the night and has sunk 26 of 32 during the season.

Amaechi's reputation had been given an initial boost on Monday when he came off the bench to help Magic to a 102-97 overtime win over Houston, and the Orlando Sentinel wrote after that game: "As much as anyone, Amaechi typifies their odd collection of cast-offs, youngsters and over-achievers who have banded together to prove they are more than just taking up space until management taps into the next college draft and free-agent market."

Amaechi has no pretensions, saying: "I can't jump. I'm not a great athlete. I'll never be a great player, never. I admit my game is ugly, and it's probably disappointing to some fans, but it's effective. I hope that's enough."

There were ugly scenes in Houston where the Rockets lost their fifth successive game, 89-88 to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Houston forward Charles Barkley and the LA centre Shaquille O'Neal were thrown out of the game by referees following a fight in the second quarter.

The Detroit Pistons beat the Boston Celtics 110-92 for their first triumph in five games. Seattle beat Washington 109-95 for their fourth victory with Gary Payton scoring 20 and equalling his career best with 17 assists. Phoenix grabbed their fourth win, beating the New Jersey Nets 104-89.

NBA disciplinary executives, meanwhile, have handed out a $5,000 (pounds 3,000) fine to the Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, and Detroit's Jerry Stackhouse for abusing referees.

Jackson had been criticised for making negative comments at a press conference after a game against Portland, while Stackhouse was punished for throwing a ball at an official in Detroit's game at Milwaukee.