Finals rematch fuels motivation for Magic, Lakers
The picture hanging in the training room reminds Dwight Howard
and Jameer Nelson of their NBA finals elimination during every
There the Magic’s leaders sit on the bench, biting their
jerseys, stoic and staring at the Lakers tasting the title on
“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
“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
“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,”
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.”