Magic's new act proves potential
ORLANDO, Fla. -- After completing two blockbuster trades, the Orlando Magic knew that it would take time to regroup and reposition themselves among the league's top teams.
Few expected it to take only a week.
Still making adjustments with everything -- from their rotation to their reality -- amid lofty expectations, the Magic completed an improbable run with Saturday's 86-78 victory to snap the Boston Celtics' league-leading 14-game winning streak.
The same Magic team that entered the week having lost consecutive games to Philadelphia and Atlanta closed out the week by ending the San Antonio Spurs' 10-game winning streak and out-bullying Boston. It marks the first time in 13 years that a team ended two winning streaks of at least 10 games in consecutive outings.
A week ago, the Magic were a team in transition, one trying to get through their game against the Sixers with only seven available players. On Saturday night, the mood in the Magic's locker room was one of a team that proved its powerful potential.
Despite taking down the top teams in the West and East in consecutive games and losing a close one to the 23-5 Mavs, Magic center Dwight Howard was reluctant before the game to say his team was in the midst of a statement week. But after Saturday's game, there was no doubt that Orlando's play had spoken volumes since Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson arrived to replace Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat.
"People started to really count us out -- and we understand that," Howard said, alluding to the stretch of eight losses over nine games before the Spurs-Celtics sweep. "This is only our fourth game together with this team. The more we play, the better we're going to get. Just the game [Saturday], showed how tough this team is going to be once we get everything going. We're going to remain humble. We're going to continue to do the things that got us these last two wins."
But that's the rub. The Magic won each of those games in different ways, with different players.
On Thursday against the Spurs, Howard went off for 29 points and 14 rebounds, while newcomers Arenas, Richardson and Turkoglu chipped in a combined 40 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. On Saturday, the holdovers did the damage in a game when Howard didn't make his first field goal until the fourth quarter and was limited to six points and 11 rebounds; Brandon Bass led the Magic with 21 points while J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson each hit huge 3-pointers to hold off the Celtics.
But there's a difference between regular-season results and postseason proof. The Magic shook up their team because they thought it would improve their chances of matching up with the same-old, tried-and-true Celtics and the dynamic, new-look Heat.
Boston eliminated Orlando in last season's playoffs, a fact that isn't lost on the Magic players or the coaching staff. Getting where they want to go this postseason will likely require going through Boston yet again.
And that's not lost on the banged-up Celtics, either.
"They can't beat us," Glen Davis said bluntly after Boston's eight-point loss. "They can't. We just have too many guys. They came out and played better than us today, but if you're talking about a seven-game series, I don't think they can beat us."
There is some truth to Davis' claims. Boston has been rolling through the league the past three weeks despite injuries that have sidelined Rajon Rondo, Delonte West, Jermaine O'Neal and Kendrick Perkins. They won't be whole until sometime around the All-Star break.
So it's tough for any team in the East to gauge itself against the Celtics. But that might also be the case with the Magic, who essentially beat two of the best teams in the league without even having the luxury of a full-throttle practice since last week's trade.
"We've been together four or five days, didn't really have one good practice and took down two great teams," Arenas said. "Each game, we're starting to show what we can do."
Before Saturday's loss, the Celtics were 6-0 this season against teams in the East (Miami, Chicago, New York) that went through offseason roster overhauls in an attempt to unseat the conference champions. The Magic hope, in time, they have the mix to get past this nemesis.
For now, they'll simply settle for having the right combination to get through a tough week.
"We clearly got better," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We beat the teams with the top two records in the league, played a very competitive game against the team with the third-best record. I think anybody that would have to play the top three teams in the league in five days, bang, bang, bang, you'd love to get them all. But I think most people would take two out of three, especially the situation we're in."
Now, there might be an even bigger challenge looming.
"You see what the possibilities are," Van Gundy said. "You see we have a chance to be a very good team. That belief and that confidence ... that's a great thing for our team. Yeah, this can work. We can do this. Now hopefully, we don't get full of ourselves. It's too early to get full of ourselves."