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

workout.

There the Magic’s leaders sit on the bench, biting their

jerseys, stoic and staring at the Lakers tasting the title on

Orlando’s floor.

“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.”