By Andy Staples
May 16, 2010

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Maybe, after their first defeat since a loss at San Antonio on April 12, the Orlando Magic huddled in their locker room Sunday -- heads bowed, tears flowing -- and nodded silently as coach Stan Van Gundy shook the rafters with a stirring reminder that all was not lost. Maybe Magic players steeled themselves to answer the onslaught of questions about how would handle defeat after so much victory.

Or maybe not.

"Not too many people can wear this and make it look good," cracked a smiling Dwight Howard as he stood in front of his locker and slipped on a white blazer bearing a prominent crest that almost certainly identified it as the crown jewel in the Captain Merrill Stubing Collection.

A few feet away, Magic guard Jameer Nelson recalled the end of a much longer winning streak. As a senior at Saint Joseph's in 2004, Nelson's Hawks fell to Xavier in the Atlantic-10 Tournament, ending a nearly four-month stretch during which the Hawks went 27-0. There was no panic then, Nelson said, and there was no panic Sunday after the Magic fell 92-88 to raise the only pimple on Orlando's 2010 playoff record. "You're winning for a reason," Nelson said. "You're a good team."

Van Gundy seemed equally unfazed by the loss. Sure, he didn't like his team's slow start. He didn't like the way the Magic failed to force the Celtics to use more help defense -- which would have created looks for shooters. He didn't like the way his team responded to Boston's bruising style. But Van Gundy didn't see the need to call down the thunder in the aftermath of the loss. All that stuff is correctable, evidenced by the Magic's comeback that turned a 20-point game late in the third into a two-point game with 8.4 seconds remaining.

The Magic know what quit looks like. They saw it firsthand in their second-round sweep of the Hawks. They don't see it in themselves after one measly loss. So even though this may feel like the year of the sweep, don't bet on Orlando going out in four.

"Our guys aren't going to fall apart," Van Gundy said. "Hell, they got down 20 in this game and they didn't collapse. That's not our team. This is all about winning. Our team doesn't have to prove they can bounce back from adversity and all that crap."

Maybe Sunday just wasn't the Magic's day. Even Megan Clementi, a former Magic dancer, couldn't bring home a win in the Miss USA pageant. Maybe Clementi, likely the first Miss Florida who also brought an electrical engineering degree to the table, shouldn't have demonstrated how to build an AC circuit as her talent. OK, I made up that last part, but the bottom line is no one from Orlando wore a crown Sunday.

That's OK, though. Clementi remains a drop-dead gorgeous former NBA dancer with serious smarts. And the Magic will have another chance Tuesday to get back to winning. Besides, they expected what they saw Sunday. Howard knew KendrickPerkins, RasheedWallace and GlenDavis would try to frustrate him on the offensive end. Howard said against the Celtics, he has to play more "like a robot," so he doesn't let his emotions boil over the way he did in Sunday's third quarter when Wallace goaded him into a tickle fight that resulted in a double-technical foul. "I think I got into a wrestling match with all those guys," said Howard, who scored 13, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots. "That's playing to their advantage. They want me to wrestle and fight with them."

Because if Howard is wrestling, he's not concentrating on getting the ball in the low post or hitting the offensive glass. The Celtics left one man (either Perkins, Wallace or Davis) on Howard for most of Sunday. The NBA's best athlete did not take advantage of the situation. Howard went 3-of-10 from the floor. If he can find a go-to move that gets him to the rim against one man, the Celtics will have to adjust. That could leave open Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis or Nelson.

The Magic understand this. Nelson said that while they didn't need to mourn the end of the win streak, they did need to take the practice floor Monday with a greater sense of urgency. Carter, meanwhile, suggested the postgame atmosphere might have been very different had the Magic not roared back in the fourth quarter. "We're just glad to see everybody really buckle down and try to get back into the game. At some point in time, we know you can lose," said Carter, who scored 23. "It's going to happen. ... So it's time to bounce back. I think it's a wake-up call we really needed."

The Celtics will not allow the Magic to sleepwalk into a second consecutive finals appearance on talent alone. With any luck, the Suns and Lakers -- two fellow second-round broom jockeys -- will do the same to one another in the Western Conference finals, and we'll have some fun basketball to watch these next two weeks.

Of the last seven teams to start the playoffs with a pair of sweeps, four have made the NBA finals. The most recent, the 2008-09 Cavaliers, lost to the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. Certainly, the Magic remember that. They also know that even the teams that rode a hot start to the title didn't wind up hugging the Larry O'Brien Trophy without at least one bump along the way. And the Magic, who vanquished the Celtics in seven games during last year's second round, know Boston will gladly provide plenty of bumps and bruises.

"I don't care what adjustments we make or what we come up with," Van Gundy said. "[Boston] is a very good, very, very, very physical defensive team. It's not going to be easy. Nothing will come easy in this series."

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)