Showing the impatience of youth, the Orlando Magic don’t want to finish the Eastern Conference finals on their beloved home court. They want their berth in the NBA Finals, and they want it in Game 6.
Forget that eight-game losing streak at Market Square Arena, and never mind Shaquille O’Neal’s two bad games against the Pacers over the weekend.
“We don’t want to relax,” O’Neal said Thursday. “We’re going there looking to end the thing.”
Ask any member of the team, and he’ll give you plenty of reasons why the Magic is due for a win at Market Square, breaking the home-court chokehold that has characterized this series.
For one thing, Orlando won both its first-round series with Boston and the second-round set with Chicago on the opponent’s floor.
“Hopefully, we can do it again,” Anfernee Hardaway said. “They’re going to feel the pressure from the fans and the whole city.”
For another thing, Orlando players feel they’ve played better each visit to Indianapolis. They lost the two regular-season games there by 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Game 4 on Monday was lost by the slimmest of margins - an incredible buzzer-beating shot by Rik Smits that lifted the Pacers, 94-93. And the Magic were in Game 3 until the final minute, eventually losing 105-100.
“Even though we have our share of losses there, we’ve been playing well up there and giving ourselves a chance to win,” Dennis Scott said. “The ball just didn’t go in.”
“It gives us a lot of confidence because of Game 4,” Hardaway said. “We felt we should have won the game.”
That loss didn’t prove to be the psychological turning point it was predicted to be. Back on his home court, O’Neal produced 35 points and 13 rebounds, helping give the Magic a 14-point fourth-quarter lead that proved just large enough to hold off a push from the Pacers that cut the lead to three points with 16 seconds left.
Indiana had a chance to tie it with less than 4 seconds left, but Mark Jackson missed a 3-pointer.
To the Pacers, who have made a living in the playoffs with improbable late-game comebacks, the loss showed nothing more than how close the series is.
“We’ve known that we’ve got to win one down there sooner or later,” said Byron Scott, no stranger to playoff tension in his 12-year career. “Now we have to protect our home court, and then go down and take our chances in Game 7.”
Back on their home court, they want to keep the Magic under 100 points and keep Smits in the game. He fouled out with 3:44 left, severely curtailing the Pacers’ offensive options down the stretch on Wednesday after he made 9 of 11 shots and scored 20 points.
Smits, averaging 19.2 points in the series, hopes he’ll be able to get O’Neal in foul trouble tonight.
“I’ll try and do the same things that I did in Game 3 and Game 4,” said Smits, who got O’Neal in enough foul trouble that he played only 30 minutes in each game. “They did a good job in Game 5 helping on him. He seemed to be playing a little more careful.”
For the Magic’s purposes, Game 7 is tonight.
“That’s the way we have to look at it,” Dennis Scott said. “We don’t want to come back here (Orlando Arena), even though we know we can win it. You never know what can happen. Reggie Miller might go 16 for 16. Something crazy could happen, so let’s not even take that chance.”
“We’ve got to look at this as just another game. We know and understand that if we lose, we’re done,” said Miller, who has averaged 26.6 points in the series. “You can’t get too high because you are down 3-2. I think we’re in a great position. We’ve just got to go out and play.”
Mexico City bound
For the fourth consecutive year the NBA will play exhibition games in Mexico City.
Washington, San Antonio and Detroit will participate in “NBA Challenge ‘95.”
The Bullets and Spurs will play Oct. 28, at the 20,000-seat Sports Palace, with the Bullets playing the Pistons the next day.
One NBA exhibition game was played in Mexico City in 1992 and 1993. Four games were played last year involving San Antonio, Seattle, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA champion will play in the McDonald’s Classic in London, Oct. 19-21. The rest of the NBA preseason schedule will be announced around Aug. 1.