Magic Approaching 20-Year Anniversary of 40-Game Home Winning Streak
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By John Denton
March 5, 2016
ORLANDO – While the current version of the Orlando Magic is still trying to find its footing at the Amway Center – see: Friday’s ugly home loss – there was a time when the Magic struck fear into foes and dominated in a manner on their home floor in which the NBA had never seen before.
The Magic are approaching the 20-year anniversary of the day when they set the NBA record for most consecutive home wins. From March 21, 1995 to March 19, 1996 – the final seven home games of one season and the first 33 of the next – the Magic never lost in Orlando, pushing their home winning streak out to a NBA-record 40 games – two better than the previous mark set by the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.
The Magic had to share much of their record run with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls at the time, but that did little to take away from just how dominant Shaq/Penny and Co. were at the time.
``Back then, we set that tone right away that when you stepped into our building here in Orlando, it was going to be a very hard night for you,’’ recalled Nick Anderson, the starting small forward on that star-studded team. ``We made up our minds that we were going to protect our home court and we didn’t want to give teams any possibility that they were going to come in here and get a win. It was a mindset – and it spread throughout the players, the coaches and the fans in Orlando.’’
The Magic’s winning streak from 20 years ago is relevant now because the rampaging Golden State Warriors are potentially on the cusp of some home history of their own. And coincidentally enough, their record-breaking 45th consecutive home victory could come against the Magic on Monday night at Oakland’s noisy Oracle Arena.
Champions from last season, Golden State blew by Orlando’s 40 straight home wins earlier this season and tied the standing record of 44 set by Jordan’s Bulls in that same 1995-96 window on Thursday night. The Warriors, a stunning 55-5 heading into Sunday’s game in Los Angeles against the Lakers, will try for their 45th straight home victory on Monday night and the Magic will be standing in their way.
``There’s a reason why Golden State has the streak that they have at home – because it’s a great team,’’ Magic coach Scott Skiles said. ``And then when you have a great team, the environment changes. More people come to the games, more people get excited. That’s the key – when you have a really good team you are always tough to play against regardless of where the game is.’’
A MAGICAL RUN
Over a two-season period from 1994-95 to 1995-96, the Magic were as tough a team to play against as there was in the NBA – especially when it came to the games held at the since-demolished Orlando Arena. The Magic were a staggering 76-6 over a two-year period at the Orlando Arena and many of those victories came in run-away fashion with ear-splitting noise raining down on foes.
``Back in the old O-rena, every night was a sellout, the crowds were incredible and with the way the arena was configured, we had such a great crowd. And our guys just felt like they were invincible at home,’’ said Brian Hill, Orlando’s head coach at the time. ``I actually think, at that time, with Shaq and Penny here, a lot of teams came in conceding the fact that they weren’t going to beat us.’’
An impressive 39-2 at home during the 1994-95 season, the Magic ultimately used their massive home-court advantage to reach the ’95 NBA Finals. They throttled the Indiana Pacers at Orlando Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – the game Magic co-founder Pat Williams still calls his favorite moment in the 27-year history of the franchise.
Added Hill: ``In that last game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana, I’ve never been in a building that loud in my life.’’
As is often the case in sports, Orlando’s record win streak started amid the heartbreak of a difficult loss. On March 14 of 1995, Orlando went into the fourth quarter tied with the Utah Jazz as Shaquille O’Neal (29 points and 11 rebounds) and Penny Hardaway (24 points and five assists) were trading blows with John Stockton (18 points and 18 assists) and Karl Malone (27 points and 13 rebounds). Even though they were 32-1 at home going into that game, the Magic got throttled in the fourth quarter by Utah for a 107-95 loss that had to be stunning to an Orlando crowd not used to seeing the team in pinstripes lose.
From there, however, Orlando’s invincible and impressive home win streak was born. The Magic their final seven home games that season by a whopping 17.8 points per game to close the regular season 39-2 at home.
And in the 1995 playoffs, Orlando was even more dominant. In the run up to the NBA Finals, Magic went 8-1, including the Game 1 defeat of Chicago when Anderson knocked the ball away from Jordan to set up Horace Grant’s game-winning dunk. The Magic also won all four home games in the Eastern Conference Finals, including the decisive Game 7 with the ear-splitting noise. That home run hit a speed bump, however, when Orlando blew big leads and lost Games 1 and 2 in the NBA Finals en route to getting swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
RECORD RUNS FOR MAGIC, BULLS
Motivated by that loss in the Finals, the Magic ripped off 33 straight home wins to open the 1995-96 season. There was the occasional close game along the way – the three-OT defeat of New Jersey on Nov. 8; wins by one point against Miami and six points against Chicago early on; and a two-point defeat of the Rockets in the first game since the crushing Finals loss – but for the most part the Magic crushed foes along the way.
Of the first 33 home wins to open the 1995-96 season, 19 were by double digits. And in the 40-game streak that spanned the two seasons, a whopping 25 came by 10 or more points, allowing the Orlando patrons to celebrate throughout most fourth quarters. Throughout the 40-game win streak, Orlando won by 30-or-more points twice, won by at least 20 points 10 times and prevailed in overtime on three occasions.
Anderson said there were times during the streak where the Magic might have been tired or struggling and the home crowd helped to push them past foes.
``Our crowd played a big part in that streak and they were huge,’’ Anderson said. ``All of that energy that they had, it was coming down onto the floor. They were very supportive of us and you need what they call that `Sixth Man.’ They were right there with us during that streak.’’
In something of a statistical anomaly, the Bulls were right there with the Magic in racking up home wins at a record rate. Orlando actually won in Chicago on March 24 of 1995 – led by 24 points from O’Neal, 22 from Hardaway and 21 from Anderson – and the Bulls responded by winning their final seven home games. Chicago’s two-season home winning streak started on March 30 of 1995 – nine days after the Magic’s streak began.
En route to winning the 1986 NBA title, Boston set the NBA mark for consecutive home victories by claiming 38 straight wins on their famed parquet floor. That record stood for 10 seasons until the Magic and Bulls put together powerhouses to challenge it. Asked recently what it was about that Celtics team that got on such a roll, then-Boston reserve guard Rick Carlisle – now the coach of the Dallas Mavericks – was quite blunt.
``Five Hall of Fame players,’’ Carlisle cracked, referring to Boston’s Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton.
The Magic equaled Boston’s then-record on March 8, 1996 and they established a new record with their 39th straight win on March 10 with a 16-point thumping of the Phoenix Suns. Chicago’s 39th straight victory didn’t come until five days after the Magic’s 39th win and both teams reached 40 on March 19, 1996 – the Magic routing the Pistons by 22; the Bulls drilling the Kings by the same margin.
``As a coach you are in your own little zone, but the players on our team definitely reacted to the crowd and the momentum that we built,’’ Hill said of the wave of emotion that his team rode nightly in Orlando. ``The Orlando crowd was so loud and so into the games that you couldn’t help but have a reaction and an adrenaline rush that obviously helped us through some of those games.’’
Orlando’s streak ended on March 26, 1996 in a shocking loss to a rather mediocre Los Angeles Lakers squad that had Magic Johnson, who had returned to the NBA after contracting the HIV virus. The Magic led that game after one quarter, but they were throttled by 24 points the rest of the way in a 113-91 loss. That loss seemed to shake the team’s invincibility a bit and the Magic eventually dropped three more home games the rest of the season to finish 37-4 at the O-rena.
Chicago, meanwhile, was a team on a mission that entire season. The Bulls won in Orlando on April 7 to get to 66-8, but their record home streak ended at 44 games the next night in a one-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Also that season, Chicago set the NBA mark for wins in a regular season (72), swept the Magic in the East Finals and won a fourth title.
For Anderson, it is still a source of pride when the graphic is flashed on television for the longest home winning streaks in NBA history and the Magic’s 40 stands out prominently.
``When I see that it just brings back the memories that we took care of business,’’ Anderson said. ``There was no question about it that we were going to in at home. We didn’t care what team you were or what all-star or superstar you had, when you stepped in our building it wasn’t going to be easy. We had the mindset to make it tough for everybody who came into Orlando.’’
WARRIORS `CLEARLY ON A MISSION’
Like those Bulls, the Warriors are trying to become the NBA record-holders for both wins in a season and consecutive home victories.
How good has Golden State been at home the past two seasons? The NFL has crowned two Super Bowl champions since the Warriors last fell at Oracle Arena (Jan. 27, 113-111 versus the Bulls in OT).
Golden State won its last 18 regular-season home games last season, but the Magic were one of the teams that came close to ending the Warriors’ home dominance. On Dec. 2, 2014, Orlando led 93-84 with 4:11 to play, but Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson connected on three straight 3-pointers to help the Warriors rally. Then, Curry drilled a step-back 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining to give Golden State a 98-97 win.
``That was a real tough loss,’’ remembered Magic guard Victor Oladipo, who had 27 points that night. ``That loss was tough, but you live and you learn. We’ve got to continue to learn through the tough times and the good times and put it all together these last few games.’’
This season, Golden State is 26-0 at home, winning there by an average of 15.2 points a night. They crushed Memphis early in the season by 50 points, throttled San Antonio by 30 and rallied to beat Oklahoma City by 15 on Thursday night to equal the Bulls’ mark.
Like during the 1995-96 home runs by the Magic and Bulls, Golden State’s record-setting home success is being somewhat mirrored by the Spurs. San Antonio, which has a 38-game win streak at home dating back to last season, actually has a better home mark (29-0) and net efficiency at home (17.4 points per 100 possessions) than the Warriors this season.
But it’s Golden State that will have a chance on Monday night when it hosts Orlando to eclipse all of the home streaks set by the ‘85-86 Celtics, the ‘95-96 Magic and the ‘95-96 Bulls. Everyone around the basketball world marvels at what they have done over the past two seasons, especially when regularly breaking the will of foes at Oracle Arena.
``They have the players, they have the coaching, they have the juice and the environment at home. And they are clearly on a mission this year to do great things,’’ said Dallas’ Carlisle. ``The longer this goes they’re going to have some hard games, at least you would think so. But they’re a team that you wouldn’t bet against.’’
Added Anderson: ``You wish every team would play the way that (the Warriors) play. If one guy gets 40 (points) and another just gets two, they don’t care as long as they get the `W.’ They make the extra pass, make the extra play and they have fun. Why play the game if you aren’t having fun? They’re going to be a tough team for anybody to beat with the way that they are rolling.’’