ORLANDO, Fla. - Dwight Howard has his bags packed. Showing off an it’s-not-over-yet smile and a confident attitude, the Orlando Magic center said Saturday that the NBA finals will be headed back to Los Angeles.
The Magic are down 3-1 to the Lakers but want to “make history,” starting with Game 5 today, their final home game of the best season in franchise history.
“You want me to get up here and say the season is going to be over tomorrow? That’s not what anybody should do or anybody should think,” Howard said. “I believe that we’re going to be going back to L.A.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wanted to make sure his team didn’t lose hope, so he called players in for a rare day-after-game meeting Friday to make sure his team had moved on from its Game 4 meltdown.
Van Gundy, who hardly ever gives speeches or pep talks, delivered one at the meeting about Greg LeMond’s comeback in the 1989 Tour de France.
“He had come from behind and then taken the lead and then lost it on one of the late stages, and people started to write him off,” Van Gundy said. “And at the end of the stage he looked beaten, and he and his wife were talking when they left, and they asked his wife what he had said.
“And he said, 'It’ll just make the story all that much better when I come back and win it all.’”
The Magic’s challenge might be just as difficult.
But Van Gundy doesn’t want his team to believe they can win Game 5 unless they first believe they can still win the championship. That would take a record rally — no team in 29 previous tries has won the title after being down 3-1 in the finals.
“I think when you’re in this situation, the key thing is do you still believe you can win the championship?” Van Gundy said. “If you don’t think you can go to L.A. and win the championship, then even though you’re saying one game at a time, it’s pretty easy to let go if things aren’t going well.”
Orlando has had a season filled with rallies.
All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson went out with a shoulder tear in February. The Magic lost on two buzzer-beaters in the playoffs, twice rallied from a series deficit, won a Game 7 in Boston and knocked out MVP LeBron James and the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.
Winning three straight against the best-in-the-West Lakers is another story. Even so, the Magic believe they can be the first team to mount such a comeback.
“Why not?” Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu asked.
It would take a big turnaround. The Magic had 17 turnovers, missed 15 free throws and fell apart on defense in their Game 4 loss. The Lakers exposed their point guard struggles and clamped down on All-Star Rashard Lewis, who had just six points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
Howard’s missed free throws — followed by Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer to force overtime — left Orlando devastated. The Magic scored only four points in OT, struggling to find their rhythm.
But the past has meant little before with Orlando.