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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Magic hold on to hope of comeback

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy tried to sleep. He closed his eyes, but his cluttered basketball brain wouldn't relax.

News photo
Tough road: Orlando's Dwight Howard is going to have to step up if the Magic are going to win the NBA Finals. AP PHOTO

Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the one Orlando fumbled away with atrocious free-throw shooting, a hideous third quarter and questionable late-game strategy, kept Van Gundy awake.

It may for many nights ahead.

Maybe years.

With only a few hours to reflect on what went wrong late Thursday in the Los Angeles Lakers' 98-91 overtime win, Van Gundy, who elected not to have his team foul with a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, was asked if a night's rest had brought him any clarity.

"The assumption of a night's sleep is way off base," he said on a conference call.

Leading 87-84 with 11.1 seconds to go, the Magic allowed Derek Fisher, L.A.'s Mr. Big and Bigger Shot, to dribble into the frontcourt and hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left.

Fisher, who would stick a fork in the Magic's hopes — and perhaps their season — with another 3-pointer in overtime, made his shot over Orlando guard Jameer Nelson, who was slow to react to Fisher's penetration.

During a timeout after Magic center Dwight Howard missed the two biggest free throws of his young career, Van Gundy told his team, which went just 22 of 37 from the line, not to foul. Too much time left, Van Gundy thought. And not with Kobe Bryant around.

He didn't want to risk more missed free throws, giving the Lakers more chances.

"I've rethought it and rethought it and rethought it," he said as the teams took a two-day break before Sunday's Game 5. "It's easy to say now, 'Do I wish we had fouled as opposed to giving that up?' Yeah, but I still don't think at 11 seconds to go in a game that we're going to foul in that situation. I'll put it this way: You always have regrets. Faced with the same situation again at 11 seconds, we still wouldn't be telling them to foul."

The Magic can't afford to look back any longer. They've got a mountain to climb.

The Lakers, one win from their 15th NBA title, are the 30th team in league history to take a 3-1 lead in the finals. The other 29 claimed the championship.

Still, Van Gundy feels his squad, which has twice taken the Lakers to overtime and carried Orlando's fans on a stomach-churning journey this season as wild as any ride at Disney World, is capable of an historic comeback.

"It's not like we're in a situation where we feel like we can't play with the Lakers and don't have a chance to win or anything else," he said. "Our confidence level will be high. Our guys have demonstrated incredible resiliency all year. I would expect us to play extremely well on Sunday."

Westphal steps in

SACRAMENTO , Calif. (AP) Although Paul Westphal has been a college coach, a basketball executive and a broadcaster over the past nine years, he always looked for the right spot to get back into the NBA in a head coaching job.

He believes he found it on the ground floor with the Sacramento Kings, who can't go any lower than they finished this spring.

"I feel like because of the way the last few seasons have gone, this is a clean slate," Westphal said Friday.

The Kings formally introduced Westphal as their fourth new head coach in just over three years at Arco Arena.

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