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Road Kill
Tim Crothers
February 19, 1996
On its home floor Orlando has been nothing short of invincible, but there has been little that's magical about its performance anywhere else
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February 19, 1996

Road Kill

On its home floor Orlando has been nothing short of invincible, but there has been little that's magical about its performance anywhere else

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No Place Like Home

Orlando may be closing in on the NBA record for home victories to start a season, but Shaquille O'Neal (above) and the Magic have been anything but dominating on the road. Here's how the defending Eastern Conference champions stacked up at home and on the road in the first half of the season.

At Orlando

On the Road

Magic record

25-0

9-14

Magic points per game

105.3

99.0

Opponents' points per game

95.5

103.0

Magic field goal percentage

.475

.460

Opponents' field goal percentage

.433

.473

Magic free throw attempts per game

30.36

26.65

Opponents' free throw attempts per game

23.72

28.60

Magic rebounds per game

41.88

38.52

Opponents' rebounds per game

43.08

43.73

Magic turnovers per game

14.88

14.09

Opponents' turnovers per game

16.16

14.35

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

One Magic Place is more than just the mailing address of Orlando Arena. At the All-Star break last week the Magic had played 25 games there without a loss. Call it the 25-0-rena. Orlando was three wins shy of setting the NBA record for home victories to start a season. Three times at home this year, point guard Anfernee Hardaway had won a game with a buzzer-beater.

But almost everywhere the Magic had traveled this season had been One Tragic Place. Orlando lost its first road game in Atlanta by 33 points. Went belly up in Dallas. Lost by 17 in Toronto. And on Jan. 13, when Hardaway tried to reproduce his game-winning magic in San Antonio with the Magic trailing by one point in the waning seconds, he was stuffed by Doc Rivers. Orlando had collected just nine wins in 23 games away from home and had suffered so many breakdowns on the road that it should consider joining AAA.

The Magic's home record was 15 games better than its road mark, by far the league's largest disparity in that category. During one 24-hour period last week, the Magic displayed both sides of its split personality.

Before Orlando played host to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 6, Sacramento coach Garry St. Jean jacked himself up by watching a Ronald Reagan western and then endeavored to fire up his Kings with a few words borrowed from the Gipper. Nice try. Five Orlando players scored in double figures, and the Magic cruised to its 25th consecutive home win, by a 112-102 margin. "Too many horses, too many Indians, too many arrows," St. Jean said after the slaughter. "This is a mean den."

The next night, in Detroit, Orlando led the Pistons 76-73 after three quarters. Then the Magic offense disappeared. Orlando made one field goal in the fourth quarter, none in the last 11 minutes. The Magic was 1 of 16 from the floor and clanked 5 of its 10 free throws. Its seven points was the lowest output in franchise history, and the result was a 97-83 loss.

What's up? Could it be, as his sneaker commercial suggests, that when Hardaway hits the road he is dogged by the worry that Little Penny is throwing a party and trashing his house? What do you say, Penny? "My feeling is that we are just so comfortable in our place that we relax and have fun here," says Hardaway of the arena in which the Magic was 63-3 in the regular season since the start of last season. "We have an arrogance about ourselves on our court that's missing on the road."

To truly understand the plight of these road worriers requires first looking at why they're so dominant at home. The atmosphere is like a camp for kids with overactive pituitaries. After a practice in January, for example, each player armed himself with a Supersoaker squirt gun and proceeded to wage water war games in the hallways of the O-rena. The players swap comic books before games. Shaquille O'Neal even treated the Kings to a full moon during a shootaround last week.

Granted, there's no graffiti on the bathroom walls. Rather, Magic staffers post malapropic platitudes like SUCCESS IS MORE APTITUDE THAN OPTITUDE, which, as near as we can figure, translates to SUCCESS IS MORE APTITUDE THAN OPTIMISM. There are so many fresh-scrubbed faces, so much insufferable good cheer around the Magic Kingdom, you expect an Up With People concert to break out any second.

Games in Orlando are accompanied by a cacophony of deafening music, bells, whistles and firecrackers, with a few flashing disco balls and lasers thrown in—Lollapalooza with backboards. It had become such a circus that the NBA adopted new guidelines in the off-season that forced the Magic and other teams to tone down their sound and light shows. Then there's Paul Porter, a public-address announcer with an attitude. "I guess you could say I'm taunting the opposition when I announce, 'Nooooo baaaasket...traaaveling,' " intones Porter. "If the environment we create flusters a player or upsets a coach, that's great."

Porter believes that the frenzy helps Orlando win games. As evidence he points to the November night when the New Jersey Nets, apparently dazed and confused by the pyrotechnics, sent only four players onto the court following a timeout. The resulting technical foul against the Nets sparked a Magic comeback in a game Orlando won in triple overtime.

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