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

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers began the NBA Finals with power and purpose.

Bryant, playing like a man possessed, scored 40 points 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 Orlando Magic, 100-75, in Game 1 last night.

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

And with the sensational Bryant out front, they may be on their way.

Game 2 is Sunday night at star-studded Staples Center, where actors Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and rapper Kanye West had front-row seats to see another virtuoso performance by Bryant, who scored 18 points 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 summer break after being drubbed by 39 points in a series-ending Game 6 by the Celtics. The renewed rivalry between the league's superpowers never panned out.

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

They are on a mission.

The Magic, who went 2-0 against the Lakers in the regular season, appeared overwhelmed in their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. Not even the return of St. Joseph's standout and all-star point guard Jameer Nelson from a four-month layoff following shoulder surgery could help the Eastern champions.

Orlando center Dwight Howard was engulfed by two and three Lakers every time he touched the ball and scored 12 points - 10 on free throws - on just 1-for-6 shooting.



Magic 75 Lakers 100

Lakers lead series, 1-0.

Game 2: Sunday in Los Angeles, 8