Denton: Magic Get Boost of Encouragement From Owner

By John Denton
April 27, 2011


ATLANTA – With his Orlando Magic seemingly down on their luck and desperate to somehow save their season, owner Rich DeVos made his way to the locker room to offer up what just might have been the biggest assist of the night.

DeVos, one of the richest men in the world, told the Magic players down in the series against the Atlanta Hawks about a time when he could relate to their plight as frustrated and feeling hopeless. With his Amway empire still in its infancy, DeVos told the players of how he unsuccessfully traveled to China three different times in an attempt to grow his fledgling business. Just as he was about to give up, DeVos gave it a go for a fourth time – and this time the results were dramatically different.

``The fourth time, we got it going and now we have a $5 billion business in China,’’ DeVos told the team.

The message applied to the Magic because they were down 3-1, but responded Tuesday night to stave off elimination by whipping the Atlanta Hawks 101-76 at the Amway Center. Clearly, the message about perseverance resonated with the Magic. Franchise center Dwight Howard’s eyebrows raised and Chris Duhon audibly muttered the word, `Wow!’ when DeVos talked about the powers of simply sticking with a pursuit.

``That `billion’ number sort of sticks with you,’’ recalled Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who chuckled when DeVos actually asked permission to address the team. ``I think most of us would classify that as success. I know I’m not going to forget that lesson.’’

The Magic are hoping now to take their lessons learned and their newfound momentum into Atlanta tonight for a Game 6 that figures to be their toughest challenge of the series. Still trailing 3-2, the Magic need to win at Philips Arena for the first time this season in five tries in order to slingshot the series back to Orlando for a deciding Game 7.

Orlando is trying to become just the ninth team ever to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series. Six of the eight teams that have pulled off the rally – most recently the 2006 Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers -- have been the higher seed in the matchup. And while Tuesday’s performance was a good start for the Magic, it will be meaningless if they can’t win on Thursday in Atlanta.

``For the people who say the pressure is on (the Hawks) now, the pressure is very much on us because if we don’t win it will be over for us,’’ said Magic guard Jason Richardson, who scored 17 points despite cutting his foot and needing seven stitches hours before the game on Tuesday. ``On the road up there in Atlanta it will be loud and it will be us against the world. But that’s just the way that we like it.’’

The Magic also like it when the ball goes through the hoop as it did Tuesday when they seemed to snap out of a prolonged shooting slump by making 11 3-pointers.

And Orlando was able to overcome early foul trouble to superstar center Dwight Howard and playmaking forward Hedo Turkoglu by getting contributions from up and down the roster. J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Gilbert Arenas and Quentin Richardson played well off the bench, buoying a starting lineup to placed just one player in double figures in scoring.

``What we need as a team is exactly what we got (Tuesday) night,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We got great efforts from J-Rich and J.J. at that (shooting guard) position and Gil and Jameer (Nelson) played well at the point. Ryan shot the ball better and Q contributed. We just need to get more guys to play well and not have to depend on Dwight so much every night.’’

Now, the question for Magic fans is whether or not the team can repeat the effort again in hostile territory against an Atlanta team that will obviously pour everything into wanting to close the series out and not have to go back to Orlando. The Hawks beat the Magic three of four times in the regular season and in three of the first four games of this series.

But the Magic finally put a stop to those losing ways with a statement-sending game on Tuesday. The Magic led by 13 after one quarter and never looked back while building the lead to as much as 32 points. Hawks coach Larry Drew said afterwards that he was disappointed in his team’s inability to match the Magic’s intensity, and he expected better.

Quentin Richardson said that by blowing out the Hawks that the Magic sent a message that they are far from dead in this series.

``At the end of the day, if they came out and played hard and we came out and played hard and played our best, our best against their best, we’re better than them,’’ Richardson said boldly. ``That’s just how we feel.’’

The Magic could care less about the collective psyche of the Hawks, and are simply worried now about trying to duplicate another dominant effort in Game 6.

``I’m more of a believer in just going out and playing hard and letting that take care of everything,’’ Nelson said. ``I think you can get momentum in a game, but (Thursday) is a new game and we have to come back with the same focus and intensity and not give in.’’

Nelson, one of the Magic’s senior-most players from his seven years in Orlando, was one of the players particularly moved by DeVos’ stirring speech about not giving up on your pursuits.

``I took a lot out of what he said. That was one of the speeches that I’ve ever heard,’’ Nelson said. ``Basically it was just about him telling us to not give up and let us know that he still had confidence in us.’’

Van Gundy hopes that DeVos’ message will carry over into Thursday when the Magic will undoubtedly be hit with some adversity against a Hawks team that plays better at home. Atlanta defeated the Magic twice at home during the regular season and then again in Games 3 and 4. Van Gundy wants his team keep fighting and keep pushing regardless of what transpires in the game, and if it does that the Magic are confident they will still be alive come Saturday.

``The first thing that I told them is that our energy and effort have to be as good or better than it was (Thursday) night,’’ Van Gundy said. ``My main message is that we’re still behind. My analogy was it’s like we’re down 25 and we make a run to get it back to 10. You feel good that you are playing better but you can’t celebrate because you have a long, long way to go to win anything. All we did was cut into the lead.

``No matter what happens – foul trouble or not shooting the ball well – whatever it is we believe that our effort and intensity will overcome any of that,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``That’s the mindset we’ve tried to go into the game with. We just kept going and that’s how it has to be no matter what happens. We have to feel like and perform like our effort will overcome anything that happens, and we will just absolutely refuse to be beaten.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.