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Magic Proving They Don't Belong

Jun 8, 2009 – 3:30 AM
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Kevin Blackistone

Kevin Blackistone %BloggerTitle%

Dwight HowardLOS ANGELES -- Late Sunday night in a corner of the cramped visitor's locker room in the bowels of cavernous Staples Center, Magic big man Dwight Howard was slumped back on a stool slowly stroking his face with one hand. His point guard Jameer Nelson sat on a stool next to him looking like The Thinker, his left elbow on left and his chin in his left hand. Their pensive look permeated the room, and it was understandable.

"We had our chances to win," Howard said later.


Indeed, what the Magic just pulled off in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers was a trick. They made a golden opportunity disappear. They lost a game that the Lakers shouldn't have won. As the Lakers' Kobe Bryant said afterward, "They [Magic] played extremely well, and we played well enough to win."

It was enough to remind us of what the Lakers are and what the Magic are not.

The Lakers were favorites to get to this stage from the West this year after having gotten so far just a season ago. The Magic, however, were a third fiddle from the East.

There were the defending champions from Boston, of course, but with Kevin Garnett unable to play due to injury the Magic were able to get by them. But they needed to go the seven-game distance.

Then came LeBron James' Cavaliers, which VitaminWater and Nike were certain would survive this far. But the Magic upset those marketing plans.

Now the Magic are playing true to form. They look like they don't belong. They look like they can't handle the heat of Hollywood's klieg lights, which was a concern, one Magic assistant coach confided in me before the game. That, he said, was what tripped them up out of the gates in the opener, more so than Kobe's 40 points.

In Game 2, they fell over their own feet. They were tagged with 20 turnovers. Howard, aka Superman, tied with Kobe for a game-high seven turnovers. The difference was Superman's faux pas came on fewer touches than Kobe's and his often resulted in more horrific results.

"I've just got to do a better job of finding my teammates and being aware of the guards coming in the paint for strips," Howard admitted after grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 17 points. "That's how they got going on the defensive end, because of our turnovers, and it gave them the game tonight."

The Magic's turnovers accounted for 28 points, more than a quarter of the Lakers' scoring. That was nothing short of gifting.

Pau Gasol guards Dwight HowardWhen the Lakers are near their best, as they were in this championship series' blowout opener last Thursday, the Magic can't beat them. That isn't eye opening.

But when all but one of the Lakers are struggling to make shots, when they score just 15 first-quarter points, when Kobe has just six points at the half, when the Magic beat them to more rebounds, make more second-chance points, and hit twice as many three-pointers, the Lakers shouldn't win. But they did, 101-96 in overtime. That is eye-opening and, if you're aligned with the Magic, disturbing. Envision Howard and Nelson, again, sitting in the locker room with that what-the-hell-do-we-do-now look.

They can't do much, obviously.

The Magic's coach, the sometimes maligned Stan Van Gundy, even designed the perfect play for his team to win at the buzzer in regulation. On an inbounds play to end the fourth quarter, Stan Van had rookie guard Courtney Lee peel off a couple of picks near the top of the key. He found himself running unencumbered to the basket where Hedo Turkoglu found him with what looked like a perfect lob pass. But Lee was maybe a few inches too far underneath the basket and couldn't quite catch and lay the ball off the backboard in one motion.

"I tried to get it up there as quick as possible," Lee said, "and the ball rolled off the rim."

It turned out to be the death knell for the Magic in the game, if not in the series. They couldn't muster enough to hold off the Lakers in overtime and most teams staring at the deficit they now are don't come back to live for a championship parade. As a reminder, they are now exactly where the Lakers were a year ago, staring a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven title series headed home for the next three games, if they can win at least one.

Home won't make it any easier, though. It very well could make everything more difficult. Now they have to get tickets for family and friends. That will be a distraction on top of the pressure of trying to win a game, something Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway didn't accomplish in 1995 in the Magic's first and only Finals appearance.

And the Lakers will come in without any of that bearing on them. All they will have is the sour taste of having been in the Magic's position before and the knowledge of how the Celtics managed not to let the soles of their boots off the Lakers' collective necks.

"The job is not finished," Kobe said when someone asked him about his now famous snarl and his sudden lack of a smile. He scored 29 in a struggle that his coach Phil Jackson said was below his standards.

"We're about to kick it up," Kobe said. "You'd better believe it. We're close. You see what I'm saying? This is the Finals."

The Magic are learning the hard way.

Latest NBA Finals Photos

    Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates beating the Orlando Magic in overtime in Game 2 of their NBA Finals in Los Angeles June 7, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES SPORT BASKETBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

    Reuters

    Orlando guard Courtney Lee (11) shoots over Los Angeles center Pau Gasol (16) with .5 seconds left in regulation of Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Lee missed the shot, and the Lakers went on to defeat the Magic in overtime, 101-96, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, Sunday, June 7, 2009. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

    MCT

    Orlando Magic forward Rashard Lewis (9) laments in the fourth quarter after the Magic miss a shot with .06 left, as the Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher looks on. The Lakers defeated the Magic, 101-96, in overtime of Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, Sunday, June 7, 2009. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

    MCT

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 7: Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and father Danny Kwan attend Game Two of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Michelle Kwan;Danny Kwan

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 7: Producer Sean 'P.Diddy' Combs attends Game Two of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sean Combs

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 7: Jameer Nelson #14 of the Orlando Magic shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jameer Nelson

    NBAE/Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 7: Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends against Rashard Lewis #9 of the Orlando Magic during Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Rashard Lewis;Luke Walton

    NBAE/Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 7: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic #12 shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Dwight Howard

    NBAE/Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 7: Kobe Bryant #24 and Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers hug against the Orlando Magic during Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Lamar Odom;Kobe Bryant

    NBAE/Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 7: Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during the post game press conference after Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Jon Soohoo/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Lamar Odom

    NBAE/Getty Images



Kevin B. Blackistone is a panelist on ESPN's Around the Horn and the Shirley Povich Chair in Sports Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. A former award-winning sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News, he lives in Silver Spring, Md.
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