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Magic's only hope of survival is premature Celtics celebration

BOSTON -- Stan Van Gundy knows what may come next. His favored Orlando Magic trail the Celtics 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals following a tortuous 94-71 loss in Game 3 Saturday. Their season will end here Monday night in Game 4 unless he and his players suddenly pull together for each other.

But he is wary they may not react so well. "What happens is people want to escape, and then people start worrying about where the blame is going to be placed," Van Gundy said. "It's not just players, it's coaches and everybody. Instead of having a mental toughness in a situation like this to get yourself ready to play Game 4, you start sometimes making comments to sort of separate and let everybody know it's not my fault."

The Magic weren't leaning in that negative direction at practice here Sunday. Point guard and team leader Jameer Nelson tried to channel his anger while training. "You feel better about yourself once you start practicing," he said. "Before practice guys can tell you I was frustrated, and heated or whatever. But it's over. That's why you have teammates. You have coaches to help you realize you can't do anything about things in the past. You have to learn from them."

In his own way, Dwight Howard was preaching unity. "There's no need for us to be sad," he said. "We're playing the sport that we love. It's easy to do it when you're winning and everything is going your way. But we've got to continue to be ourselves. There's no need for us to be down. There's no need for us to come in with attitudes and go at each other. We're not going to be the team that does it."

But how do they fix the numerous problems that have all but ruined their title hopes? The matchup problems that helped the Magic upset Cleveland in this round one year ago are now destroying them against Boston. The balanced Celtics are spreading the floor for Paul Pierce to beat Vince Carter or MattBarnes off the dribble. Kevin Garnett either posts up Rashard Lewis or pulls Dwight Howard away from the basket to open up the lane. Ray Allen flashes out to the three-point line, Kendrick Perkins finds seams along the baseline, and no one throughout this postseason has been able to stop Rajon Rondo.

The Magic can't create easy baskets because they're not forcing turnovers or coming up with stops when needed. They can't spread the floor to create open threes because Perkins or Rasheed Wallace or Glen Davis have been unable to defend Howard one-on-one in the post. As much as the Celtics have dominated this series, they remain concerned by the possibilities of Orlando growing suddenly hot from the arc. "We made three mistakes on our traps -- all three were threes they made," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers as he reviewed Game 3. "They beat you every time you make a mistake. We just can't afford to make them."

The Magic must hope for a premature celebration by the Celtics, a letdown that will create space for Lewis (5.0 points on 25-percent shooting this series) to emerge. But Rivers has been emphasizing the need to play as hard as ever. The Celtics lost more games at home than on the road during the regular season, but they are 5-1 here this postseason.

"We hopefully have solved that problem during the playoffs," said Rivers. "We've lost one game at home [a Game 3 blowout against the Cavaliers]. It was an awful one. And, again, it was due to a lack of focus and taking our eye off what we should be doing. Let's hope we've learned."

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