Magic were outmatched in the Finals, but that was one amazing season


John Raoux/Associated Press At this point, I don’t feel any sense of disappointment, frustration or regret. How can you? The Lakers easily mulled through the Magic to capture their 15th championship, and they did so in dominating fashion. There’s not a person in the world who can say the Magic are better than the Lakers. And when you can say that, losing hurts a lot less. The sting especially softens when your team didn’t fail because of dumb turnovers, poor coaching or lack of effort. None of that was the problem. The Lakers were simply better than the Magic. If the Magic are a heavyweight, the Lakers are a super heavyweight. The Magic simply couldn’t trade punches with the Lakers, who are too good, too deep and too versatile. They’re built with the ability to counter anything the Magic could throw at them. And they’re killers — when they see blood, they attack. The Magic’s only hope was to shoot 62 percent like they did in their only win of this series. That wasn’t happening tonight. Toward the end of the second quarter, as the Lakers completed a 16-0 run that wiped out a hot Magic start, it was clear. The players, coaches, and fans of both teams knew it was only a matter of time till this thing was over. The 5 percent of the arena wearing purple and gold began to sound a lot louder. Each Magic basket was greeted with half-hearted cheers. It was beginning to sink in. The Lakers were going to win the NBA championship on Orlando’s home floor. “Were they the better team in this series? Yeah, that’s why they’re the champs,” Dwight Howard said. “They didn’t take any possessions off. They kept the pressure on us, and like I said, they played like a team that was hungry for a championship.” Unfortunately the Magic couldn’t stand up to the talented and composed Lakers. The Magic dropped a few threes in the fourth quarter to keep it respectable, but the players accepted the loss at different points in the second half. After the game, Howard and Jameer Nelson sat on the bench and watched the Lakers’ victory celebration. “What I just told Jameer is to look at it, just see how they’re celebrating,” Howard said. “It should motivate us to want to get in the gym, want to get better; just to see those guys celebrating.” To reach championship caliber, the Magic will certainly need to improve — whether that means by roster moves or another year of development is unclear. We’ll get into that throughout the coming months. For now, let’s concentrate on the 2008-09 Magic. Excuse me for being expected and cliché, but it’s totally true: don’t let this loss take away from what the Magic accomplished this season. They gave their fans an incredible ride, albeit a bumpy one, on the way to Orlando’s most memorable season in team history. When Nelson suffered his shoulder injury, the season was lost. Magic fans were already looking toward next year. Can you believe the Magic just played in the NBA Finals? The city rallied around its basketball team like it NEVER has before. We saw the team’s franchise player become a national icon and improve so much on the defensive end that he was rewarded with the league’s highest defensive honor. We saw a 23-year-old unknown rookie from Western Kentucky blossom into a playoff contributor. We saw a coach get under people’s skin yet always keep us entertained. We saw this team overcome multiple suspensions to starting players. We saw this team beat two 60-win teams and reach the biggest stage in basketball. We saw a team unlike few other teams in history — a blend of sweet outside shooting, top-notch defense and the best rebounder in the league. I was able to attend every Magic home game of the playoffs, and I can’t even begin to recap all of the memories. There are too many. From Andre Iguodala’s game-winning jumper in the first round to Kobe’s improbable double-clutch lay-up tonight, these playoffs were riveting and gut-wrenching and always compelling. We’ll wrap the season up throughout the next few weeks. For now, think about what this Magic team has done. They’ve accomplished things nobody ever thought possible from this crew. And I know that sounds like something a player would say, but it’s true. This Magic team deserves to be applauded. I know the team was upset tonight, but whether it’s tomorrow, next week or next month, they’ll be proud of what they accomplished and look back on this season with a lot of positive feelings.