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Season is about unfinished business for Orlando Magic

November 01, 2009|Mike Bianchi | Bianchi is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

O'er the land of the free.

And the home of the future NBA champions.

If little Gina Marie Incandela had her way, that's probably how she would have ended her incredible rendition of the national anthem last week.

That's how much faith she has in her Orlando Magic.

Looking ahead. Not back.

Unfinished business.

That's what this Magic season is about.

Not just for the team.

But for the fans.

Even the littlest fan.

"It was sad when we lost last year," said Gina, the Magic's melodic good luck charm during last season's playoff run, which ended with a 4-1 series loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. "That's why I couldn't wait for this season to begin.

"The Magic are going to win it all this year! I just know they are!" Who are we to argue after one of the most memorable opening acts since George C. Scott's famous speech at the beginning of Patton?

"Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser," Patton said. "Americans play to win all the time." And apparently so, too, do the Magic, who followed up their 8-0 preseason with a 120-106 opening-night victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last Wednesday.

"Nobody's ever gone 82-0," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said afterward.

Maybe not, but this Magic team is going to win a lot of games -- a whole lot of games.

They handled a Philly team that took them to six games in the first round of the playoffs last season; a team welcoming back superstar Elton Brand, who was injured and didn't play against the Magic in the postseason. And the Magic still made them look like a bunch of D-League rejects.

Did the Magic really need to spend $118 million on Rashard Lewis? They shot 55 percent from 3-point range with Lewis, their best shooter, suspended for the first 10 games and watching from home.

The Magic bench is deeper than Plato's Republic. Backup point guard Jason Williams hit 3-of-4 threes and scored 15 points. Are you kidding me? In one magical night, aging White Chocolate miraculously turned into Godiva Chocolate.

Finally, Dwight Howard is still dominant -- and he's still a 50-percent free throw shooter. Oh well, some things never change.

Seriously, how exciting is this Magic season when even a 7-year-old little girl can't wait for the opening tip? Or when the arena is jam-packed with the most season-ticket holders in franchise history? Or when sports radio shows are talking more about the NBA than the World Series or Tim Tebow's red-zone problems?

Can you believe this town is actually revved up about basketball -- in October?

"It's usually not until after the Super Bowl when people start getting into basketball," Van Gundy said.

Not anymore. This team is too good to ignore until February. And so is the league.

Maybe it's because the Magic are going into a season as serious championship contenders for the first time in more than a decade, but has the NBA ever seemed more exciting?

The league is loaded with gifted players, great teams and not nearly as much scandalous behavior as the NFL or even Major League Baseball. Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Garnett -- all are hard-working superstars who ooze talent and charisma. And all except Wade are on legitimate contenders.

And, of course, the Magic believe they are the one team that is overlooked by the national media, further fueling the team's us-against-the-world mentality. Example: On the cover of Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue is a picture of Shaquille O'Neal and James with this headline: "Watch Out! Stars Align In Cleveland (And Boston . . . And L.A. . . . )" How can this be? How can the defending Eastern Conference champs be relegated to an ellipsis? How can the Magic merely be a dot-dot-dot on the cover of America's foremost sporting magazine?

The national media is making a big mistake underselling this team.

Just as their biggest littlest fan.

"This year's going to be different," Gina says. "The Magic are going to show everybody they are the best team." They sure did on opening night when little Gina was singing once again.

And her team was humming right along with her.

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