Magic Facing Judgment Day In Boston
"Need-A-Win Pasta,'' Carter quipped after practice.
Never was there a more appropriate dish from a restaurant proprietor. And by the way, it comes with two sides and a drink.
The Orlando Magic finished their third consecutive day of practice Friday and left for Boston, where they will play their biggest, most critical game of the season Saturday night, expecting to claw back into the Eastern Conference finals and avoid what surely would lead to a stunning end -- and a harsh judgment -- of a season that began with such high expectations.
"Everybody is still in the fight. Everyone still believes in our goal,'' Carter said. "At this point, you just find a way to get the next win.''
It was Carter -- the key piece added last summer -- who missed a pair of free throws with 31 seconds remaining Tuesday that led to a second-consecutive loss in Orlando, digging the 0-2 hole in which the Magic have been stewing.
"The season is on the line right how, but to win a championship, you have to win games like this next one,'' said forward Matt Barnes after practice Friday. "This team was in the Finals last year, and brought in all these new pieces. It's a failure if we don't get back.''
Despite being outplayed at home in Games 1 and 2, the Magic remain confident they can win in Boston -- they did twice during the regular season -- and keep the buzzards from circling when a team loses the first three of a best-of-seven series.
The Magic, defending Eastern Conference champs, made some bold, but risky off-season moves in hopes of taking the next step and winning a title, but a sweep by the Celtics surely would be a decisive step backward.
"We're not afraid of expectations and how we'll be judged,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after practice Friday. "All of us understand we'll be judged as having an unsuccessful season if we don't win a championship, and certainly if we don't go to the Finals. We're one of the contenders. We're there, and we still have a chance to do that.''
The Magic swept Charlotte in the first round. They swept the Atlanta Hawks in the second round, then watched how the Hawks were perceived -- the coach was fired, star Joe Johnson was booed -- even though they won more regular-season games than they had in 13 years.
"I'd say there were only four teams -- Lakers, Cleveland, Boston and us -- who really had the mentality going into this season that they could win a championship,'' Van Gundy said. "This is where we want to be. We have to embrace it. The first two games didn't go the way we wanted. OK, so let's go get Game 3. This is where we want to be, with those high expectations. We're not afraid to be held to those standards.''
A year ago, the Magic beat the Celtics in the second round and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-2, in the Eastern final, before falling to the Lakers.
Since then, they opted not to re-sign free agent Hedo Turkolu -- a key player in their 2009 Finals run -- and instead traded for Carter. They also traded away Rafer Alston, the point guard who took them through the playoffs a year ago, and re-inserted Jameer Nelson as the starter. They acquired Jason Williams to be the backup. They signed Barnes to be a perimeter defender and glue guy. They matched a lucrative offer to keep backup center Marcin Gortat and signed power forward Brandon Bass, who has hardly played.
"Success or failure is based on winning,'' Magic general manager Otis Smith said Friday. "There are no gray areas. Our goal is to win a championship. Anything less is not a successful season. That's how you're judged. I set the bar. We set our own goals.''
Although a Magic loss in this round won't be perceived as the complete disaster that the Hawks' loss was in Atlanta -- Van Gundy has another year remaining on his contract -- or the chaos surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers, it certainly will be dissected critically. And the roster will be reshaped again this summer.
High-priced forward Rashard Lewis has been woeful offensively against Boston, scoring just 11 points in 84 minutes of playing time. Center Dwight Howard has struggled with consistency throughout the playoffs. Carter has been lacking defensively. Nelson was unable to slow Boston point guard Rajon Rondo from attacking in Game 2.
"Such a good season, you don't want it to slip away so fast,'' said Magic forward Mickael Pietrus. "We've been in this situation before (in the Finals last year). We know what's at stake. And we know what to do.''