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Magic is far from tragic against Lakers

MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The defending Eastern Conference champions arrived at Staples Center in disarray but showed they still have some firepower.

January 19, 2010|Mark Heisler

No kidding, that was a rematch of former NBA finalists? From what season?

Last season?

It was a bedraggled East defending champion that showed up in Staples Center, loser of six of its last eight games before the Lakers made it seven of nine, beating the Orlando Magic, 98-92.

It was a battle of comebacks, the Lakers coming back last, going up early by 13 points, watching the Magic go up by nine with a 20-2 run, then striking back with their own 21-1 run to turn the game back around.

Not that this was anywhere the Magic wanted to be in its current state.

The teams' last meeting here was June 7 in Game 2 of the Finals, when it was tied at the end of regulation with time for a last Magic play -- a lob to Courtney Lee, who got behind Kobe Bryant, who had gone to double-team Dwight Howard, as Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy thought he would.

Asked later what he thought as he watched the pass to Lee sail over his head, helplessly, Bryant said, "Shoot," or something close to that.

Lee caught the ball, ducked under Pau Gasol's swipe, which left him alone at the basket, and missed.

The Lakers won in overtime. Instead of going back to Orlando for three games, tied, 1-1, the Magic trailed, 2-0, and shortly thereafter 4-1.

For reasons best known to Orlando management, it then reconfigured its coming, young team, letting swingman Hedo Turkoglu leave as a free agent when his price got to $10 million a year, replacing him with Vince Carter, who makes $16.3 million.

The Magic then started 17-4, and hasn't been seen since.

Whoever that is wearing its uniforms went 9-10 going into Monday's game.

Last season's Magic had a killer inside-outside game. This season whoever that is wearing Howard's No. 12 is averaging 17 points a game, down from last season's 21, and nine shot attempts, down from last season's 12.

After Friday's loss in Portland, Matt Barnes, who only arrived this season, went off, announcing he was tired of hearing about last season.

"Just because you went to the Finals last year, you can't go out on the floor and expect teams to lay down," Barnes said. "We got no heart. . . . Everybody has to come and play hard, not just one or two guys."

Before times got tough, the Magic seemed more concerned with fine-tuning Van Gundy's attitude, with Howard approaching him on behalf of the team, asking him to lighten up.

Van Gundy then proclaimed the start of a kinder, gentler era, although one not as successful on the floor, it turned out.

This, of course, prompted calls for a return to Loud Stan, although Van Gundy says screaming won't help.

"People want to point to a lot of psychological things and all of these things," Van Gundy said before the game.

"I've heard 'hangover from the Finals.' What, it came on after 21 games?

"I've heard 'chemistry,' so I guess as time went on, we had good chemistry for 21 games. It's none of that stuff that makes for the easy stories. We're simply not playing well."

The Magic played a lot better Monday, relocating Howard, who had gotten a total of 14 shots in the previous two games, scoring a total of 19 points, but squeezed off 14 shots and went for 24 points, putting the missing "inside" back into its vaunted inside-outside game.

Now, the Magic just has to do it against someone who can't literally play over its heads, as the Lakers did at the beginning and at the end.

For the Lakers, it closed out the favorable early part of their schedule, with 26 of their first 41 games at home.

Now they're going on an eight-game trip that includes Boston and starts with Thursday's game in Cleveland.

So this was their warmup for the Cavaliers. It wasn't all they could hope for but will have to do.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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