Pretty much since Miami put the finishing touches on a 96-70 victory at American Airlines Arena, Orlando fans have had Nov. 24 circled on the calendar. It was a chance for redemption and a chance to see whether the Magic needed to make a move to compete for an Eastern Conference title (let alone an NBA championship). You could feel the anticipation and the necessity of this game as it was not long before this late November game took on the appearance of one from mid-March (not quite a Playoff atmosphere, but nearing that).
It was pretty easy to get wrapped up in thinking this game had a lot of meaning.
But Friday is another game. Just one of 82. Just like Wednesday. And Orlando is not looking much further than that. This game was more of a check-up than a statement.
"I think after going undefeated in the preseason, we were feeling like we were untouchable," Rashard Lewis said. "We are beatable. We got beat down. We can never get satisfied with where you are at. You always have to continue to work hard and try to improve because the longer the season goes on, teams are going to get better and we have to be willing to get better as well."
Lewis had a big change from that first game to last night. He scored 14 points (taking surprisingly only one 3-pointer and making it). He was hampered by foul trouble, giving Brandon Bass the opportunity to shine. Lewis though had only two points and was zero for nine in that first meeting.
Progress. And after Monday's setback -- albeit a somewhat encouraging one -- the Magic found out a little something about themselves in Wednesday's game.
"When you play the best teams, especially this time of year, you want to win," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But the other thing you really hope is that you learn something both as coaches and players. I think from the first game, we learned a great deal about what didn't work and I thought our guys made a conscious effort to play with a great deal more energy, to move a lot harder, to move the ball from one side of the floor to the other and to make them move. We were very stagnant in the first game. Dwight carried us in the first half of that game, but all we did was throw it in and stand around. They kept coming harder and harder at him and we were in trouble."
Van Gundy said he didn't call straight post up plays and tried to get him more opportunities on the move. The strategy worked as Howard had more points and rebounds than he did in that first game. Orlando also had 24 assists, compared to the franchise-low five the team posted in the first game. There was considerable progress.
Dwight Howard said the team knew Miami would come out with a lot of energy in the first game, being Miami's first home game of the season. He said Orlando wanted to make sure they came out with more energy tonight and match whatever Miami threw out. The Magic did more than weather storm, coming out as the aggressor.
This was a single game. Quentin Richardson said even though it was just one game of 82 games, it was an important one. Going down 2-0 to a division rival would have led to a tall order to win the potential tiebreaker. And confidence matters.
"It definitely let us know where we stand after playing a tough San Antonio team, playing Miami," Lewis said. "Not only this week, I think this month. Even next month is going to be tough. We've got to go on a West Coast trip, play some good teams, play Boston on Christmas, go on the road, play a lot of games on the road. This is definitely going to be a testing time for us."