Ohmygawd, so this is what playoff fever feels like?
It’s been so long — so losingly and laboriously long — that we almost forgot how much fun the Orlando Magic can be.
The lifeblood of any franchise — fan passion — was pumping and thumping throughout Amway Center on a frenzied Friday night during the Magic’s resounding, playoff-expounding 149-113 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the regular season home finale.
Notice I said “regular season” home finale? Why? Because it’s looking more and more like the Magic could finally make the playoffs and we could actually see some tangible results from the endless rebuild. Orlando’s win, coupled with Detroit’s loss on Friday, means the Magic have moved all the way up to the sixth playoff spot — a half-game ahead of the Pistons and Brooklyn Nets with two games left. All they have to do now is win one more game — or have the Heat and the Hornets lose one more game — and the Magic are playoff-bound, baby!
Are you kidding me? How does that happen in one season? How does Amway Center go from being as quiet and antiseptic as a doctor’s office to as loud and raucous as a Machine Head concert? Even Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education and the daughter-in-law of late Magic owner Rich DeVos, was in the house yelling for the home team and handing out vouchers to all of the public-school kids in attendance.
OK, so Betsy wasn’t really handing out the vouchers, but she was cheering loudly and proudly for the Magic. When I asked her after the game if it feels good to have the Magic back in the playoff hunt, she responded with an emphatic thumbs-up.
“It sure does!” she said. “It sure does!”
The team’s other most famous fan — retired local attorney Dennis Salvagio, a k a “The Fat Guy” — was front and center Friday night just like the old days, sitting courtside and wearing one of his vintage sequined suits while revving up the crowd throughout the game.
“I haven’t felt this kind of excitement and electricity for years,” Salvagio said. “You can really tell the crowds are into the game and into the team. I don’t have people coming up to me anymore and saying, ‘How are YOUR Magic doing?’ Now they’re OUR Magic again.”
This is exactly what first-year Magic coach Steve Clifford wants to hear. When he was on the coaching staff in Orlando before as an assistant during the team’s heyday under former coach Stan Van Gundy, Clifford remembers how much fans cared and how much they affected the game back then.
Clifford must have had that old-time feeling in the cheap nba jerseys china
first half Friday night when the Magic, with the crowd roaring, scored more points than they ever had in a first half while storming out to an 81-48 lead at intermission. By the time the game was over, the Magic had three players with 25 points each (Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross) and had scored the third-most points in team history
“Tonight is how it used to be,” Clifford said of the atmosphere at the Amway Center. “… I hope [this playoff push] has been great for the fans. From my experience of being here with Stan, I know how much the fans helped us before. Not just in playoff games, but regular-season games. We were so hard to beat and they were a big part of it. I know if we can have a good team and a team the fans can be proud of, they’ll come back and this will be a tough place to play.”
Magically, it’s already happening right before our very eyes. The Magic now have won nine straight home games, 13 of their last 14. Winning breeds winning — not just among the players but among the fans, too. There was a noticeable buzz before Friday night’s game; playoff chatter; anticipation; anxiousness; and something much more basic that we haven’t sensed in this building for six years and four head coaches: