1994-95: Magic Stake Claim To "Beast Of East" Mantle

In only their sixth season in the league, the Orlando Magic posted the best record in the Eastern Conference (57-25), won the Atlantic Division, defeated the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls, and the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs, and then advanced to the NBA Finals.
Although the Magic were crushed by the Houston Rockets in a four-game NBA Finals sweep, the loss in no way diminished the accomplishments of the young squad. By winning consistently in the regular season and prevailing in tough playoff matches, the Magic had served notice that they could be an NBA power for years.

Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway gave the team a young, talented, and enviable nucleus. O'Neal, in his third year in the NBA, ranked first in the league in scoring (29.3 ppg), third in rebounding (11.4 rpg), second in field goal percentage (.583), and sixth in blocked shots (2.43 per game).

In the NBA Finals, O'Neal for the most part evenly battled the more seasoned Hakeem Olajuwon. (Olajuwon, the NBA Finals MVP, had gotten the best of league MVP David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.)

Hardaway evolved into a star in his own right in his second NBA season. He averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists, started in the All-Star Game, and was named to the All-NBA First Team. O'Neal also started in the All-Star Game and earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team. In the NBA Finals, Hardaway averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 assists and shot .500 from the field, including .458 from three-point range.

While Orlando's two young stars figured prominently in the team's success, the key for the Magic in 1994-95 was the offseason acquisition of Horace Grant. An All-Star forward with a penchant for winning, Grant came to Orlando as a free agent, toting the three championship rings he had won as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

Grant's toughness and veteran leadership, not to mention his rebounding (9.7 rpg) and field goal percentage (.567), proved crucial to the young team. At season's end he earned his third straight selection to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.


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