Finals rematch fuels motivation for Magic, Lakers
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)
``Never again,'' they said.
Howard, Nelson and the rest of the Magic have wanted that feeling to stick for motivation.
So when Los Angeles returns Sunday for the first time since that champagne-splashed championship celebration, it's the type of moment the Magic hope to let loose all the painful memories from a series they've yet to forget, from a picture they've yet to rip off the wall.
``I guess it was to show our look after our loss, seeing somebody celebrate on our home floor. I think that was the whole thing behind the picture,'' Howard said. ``We didn't like it at all. We know how tough it is to get to the finals, and to make it and lose and have a team celebrate on your home floor, it hurts. But you live and you learn.''
Los Angeles can relate.
Kobe Bryant and his teammates were fueled last season by a finals defeat a year earlier to Boston. Nothing resonated more than their Game 6 beatdown in Beantown, sent home after losing by a whopping 39 points.
``Definitely more motivated,'' Bryant said of his team's attitude after the finals loss. ``You understand the level of hunger you have to play at.''
These two teams back in Orlando together bring back memories - some good, some bad, depending on the jersey - that are driving both this season.
The Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference, but are trying to avoid three straight losses for the first time since acquiring All-Star forward Pau Gasol in February 2008. Bryant spoke candidly to his teammates before practice Saturday near Orlando, and he's hoping getting back to the site of their title toast will re-ignite their passion.
He wouldn't reveal what was discussed, only that the message came through loud and clear.
``They received it,'' he said.
Pushing the Magic just as much as that trophy ceremony are the things they have seen or read about since.
The Lakers huddled around coach Phil Jackson in the visiting locker room. The Larry O'Brien Trophy sat on a table in the middle. About a dozen bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne surrounded them, sitting next to a few boxes of Wheaties with the Lakers' team picture already on the covers.
Then they doused each other with the champagne. They danced. They cheered. They paraded around the arena's tunnels in championship T-shirts and hats, most dotted with champagne.
``We were trying to get to that dream of ours,'' Gasol said. ``It was very emotional.''
Not so much in the Magic's locker room.
Players dressed slowly and left. None were overly emotional.
Howard, usually one to stick around late after games, went straight home.
``I just sat outside and looked at the stars all night and locked all my doors. I just thought about what I need to do to get better and try to come back,'' Howard said.
Nelson couldn't sleep.
``I probably stayed up till like five, six in the morning just thinking about things, just kind of reminiscing on the season,'' Nelson said.
Only time will tell if the Magic's motivation is enough.
They lost to the Lakers in the first - and only other - finals rematch this season, blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Los Angeles. And few finals losers have made it back to the NBA's biggest stage the following year.
The Lakers were the first team to accomplish that feat since New Jersey made appearances - both losses - in 2002 and 2003. And that hadn't happened since Utah went to the finals in 1997 and 1998, losing each to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Overcoming such defeat was a topic Jackson, who also coached those Bulls teams, said he addressed last year after Los Angeles' loss to Boston.
``Not many teams come back after they lose the finals. It's very hard because the disappointment is so great,'' Jackson said. ``But you can use it as (motivation), too. We were ready for that level of physicality, and we got ourselves geared up toward that last year and we were able to do it.''