ORLANDO, Fla. — Before Dwight Howard stepped away from the postgame news conference podium after Orlando’s 117-96 win over Boston on Friday, he leaned in and whispered a final parting shot into the microphone.
"Black Magic," he said with a grin The moment was little more than the latest example of Howard enjoying the ride that the Magic have been on this season. But with a 2-1 series lead on the defending NBA champions, he could have just as easily been sending a subliminal basketball hex Boston’s way heading into a pivotal Game 4 on Sunday night at Amway Arena.
Win and the Magic would be in a 3-1 power chair with three chances (including one more at home) to win one game and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Lose and they would be back at square one against a Celtics [team stats] team that has already survived the stress of a seven-game series this postseason.
There is a blue-and-white lining to it all, though. After having to play with hybrid lineups the first three games of the series due to injury and a suspension, the Magic will enter Game 4 finally back at full strength.
For a team that has thrived this year on diversity, the question is whether they can
keep their momentum now that things are back to normal.
"We have to understand where we are," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The first thing I put on the board was that we are exactly where Philadelphia was the last series — up 2-1 and playing at home. . . . You gotta feel good about (the win), but what you have to do is understand what it is you did to have success and make adjustments on things you had problems with. . . . Two wins is all we’ve got, we’re at halftime."
Still, even Van Gundy admitted halfway home is a good place to be.
Even with starting point guard Rafer Alston suspended and rookie Courtney Lee coming off the bench in his first action since sinus surgery Friday, the Magic had one of their best games of the postseason.
Anchoring Orlando’s fourth different starting lineup of the postseason, Howard established himself in the paint and got his Celtics counterparts in foul trouble.
His play and crisp ball movement opened up the court for both Hedo Turkoglu (24 points) and Rashard Lewis (28 points). Lee also showed uncanny poise coming back off the first major injury of his career.
And not to be outdone, Anthony Johnson proved he isn’t at all a step behind Rajon Rondo [stats] in relief of Alston, scoring 13 in 28 minutes of work.
It’s created a lot of options, but Van Gundy said he wouldn’t decide whether to tinker with re-inserting Lee into the lineup over J.J. Redick until this morning.
As good as things were Friday, though, it was clear that Van Gundy’s postgame message Friday night was sticking with the players after Saturday’s practice.
Much like Orlando responded big in Game 3 after a pasting from Boston, they are anticipating much the same bark from the Celtics today as they try to avoid the dreaded 3-1 hole
"(Friday night) is over with," Howard said. "We won, but this is a series. We have to understand that Boston is going to come out like they did in Game 2. We just have to be ready for it. And we know what they’re going to do. We have to just be able to withstand their push and not get frustrated."
Howard conceded that even with their successes this season there have been times when they have been prone to be up and down mentally.
He’s hoping that history will serve as a good reminder of what they don’t want to duplicate.
"Yeah, it’s real," Howard said. "It’s the playoffs and they’re the defending champions. So they will not go home without a fight. . . . We don’t want to be off and on. . . . That’s the main thing that we’ve been talking about. We don’t want to feel the way we felt (leaving) Boston."
from the Boston Herald