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Are Magic up for yet another comeback?

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George Diaz
June 9, 2009
— We’ve seen lots of frantic comebacks from these guys.

They were down 2 games to 1 in Philly and came back in the first round of the playoffs.


They were down 3-2 to the world champion Boston Celtics and came back, undaunted by Celtic tradition.


They were down after LeBron James hit an improbable three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, but maintained their composure to close out the Cavaliers in six games.


What now Magic?


What you got?


Is there one more run left, or will you continue to sputter down the road, about to break down on the Pacific Coast Highway?


It’s been a long, strange trip to Cali this week.


As bad as a 25-point blowout was in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Sunday’s 101-96 heartbreak in overtime was worse. Forget the five-point differential in the box score. This was sosoclose. And sosodisheartening.


After playing like they were working up a sweat at the Y in the first quarter, the Magic were poised to win this thing Sunday.


They should have.


Twice it was there, then gone.


Courtney Lee missed a drive to the basket that was challenged by Lamar Odom but makeable. Then, after a Hedo Turkoglu block on a Kobe Bryant drive, the Magic had the ball with six-tenths of a second left. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy called a brilliant play, with Lee using a weakside screen to cut toward the basket. Perfect lob pass from Hedo. He missed a layup.


“You can’t blame anybody for anything,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. “He just missed a shot.”


The Lakers ran with that momentum into overtime. Orlando lost it.


It’s now incumbent on Orlando to get it back. Sunday’s game is more reflective of how competitive this series can be. If anything, the Magic will feed off all the negative dispatches and naysayers in the national media. Most everybody is blowing them off, thinking that Michael Vick has a better chance ending up in a photo op with Goofy before the Magic kiss an NBA champions trophy.


“Bottom line is that we came here for two games and we didn’t get the job done,” Van Gundy said. “Now we have to go home and have a great Game 3.”


That means not throwing the ball away 20 times. That means better play from their point guards. That means a way to get Dwight Howard more involved in the offense with the Lakers playing suffocating defense inside.


Logic says that is it over. But the Magic aren’t going away. They can match up with the Lakers physically. But can they match up with the Lakers emotionally?


“It’s going to be a big event,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of the return to Orlando. “We know there’s going to be a lot of energy surrounding their team.”


Will it be enough?


After Sunday’s loss, the body language didn’t look so good. Howard was slouched on his chair, arms crossed, staring at nothing in particular. Athletes get paid a ton of money to do what they do, but they are human. Think of how hard it is for anyone to come back to work the next day after botching a big project. You don’t want to look your boss in the eye. You don’t want to look at your co-workers, either. You want to crawl and hide.


The Magic don’t have that option. They will be back in Orlando for three games, all before sellout crowds. All before people who experienced the heartbreak with them, from home, from restaurants, from bars.


Their hearts are broken today, too. It is the nature of sports. If Lee hit either of those shots, think of how much different this conversation would be. The Lakers would no longer have home-court advantage, and Van Gundy would again have played all the skeptics for fools for dismissing the Magic after just one game.


Van Gundy doesn’t fancy himself as a guy who worries too much about the psychology of sports. But for the Magic, the 2009 NBA Finals have very much become a mind game.


L.A. is in their heads, and the Magic will need a quick dose of group therapy to get this thing together. Is there one more run left?


Orlando will embrace its team tonight, willing to forgive and forget.


Amnesia, it seems, isn’t such a bad thing right now.



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