The Orlando Magic established themselves as a contender early on this season, positioning Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics as a possible Eastern Conference Semifinals ‘ or even Finals — match up. But before the Magic can think about playing the role of spoiler, they have their own issues to take care of first ‘ the Detroit Pistons .
‘We can’t focus in on how they’ve played us in the past,’ said Magic center Dwight Howard . ‘This is going to be a different year for us in the postseason if we continue to do the things that we do on a night in, night out basis.’
Over the past two seasons the Magic have made early exits from the playoffs at the hands of the Pistons. In 2007 they were swept 4-0 in the first round. Last season, in spite of earning their best record in over 10 years, they fell 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With less than a month left in the regular season and Eastern Conference rankings changing every night, the Magic could very well face the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs.
‘I think mentally we’ve got to get over that hill, I guess, that they present to us,’ said Howard. ‘They’re a very physical team, they get away with it. They know how to score. They play great defense. And we know how to beat those guys, but it’s just going to take us to come out and do it. We know the way to beat them is to run, not let the defense set up, and then play help defense, and then rebound the basketball. So they’re a team that we can beat. We just have to be mentally on our game.’
This season was the perfect opportunity for the Magic to reverse their luck. They have been soaring behind Howard, beating the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers , and Los Angeles Lakers . The Pistons, on the other hand, have plummeted since the Allen Iverson  trade. But the Magic went 0-3 against the Pistons this season. The third loss came just a day after defeating the Celtics in Boston this month.
‘Any team is liable to get beat any night. But you’ve got to be able to beat both teams,’ said Howard. ‘Boston is the world champion so they’re a tough team. And you’ve got Detroit, who’s been beating us like they’ve got our number. I think it’s just a mental block. It’s the same thing that happened to us with the (Atlanta) Hawks . They would always beat us until we got over that — ok, we can beat this team — then that’s when we started beating them. But we have to do that against a good team in Detroit.’
The Magic did not capitalize on the Pistons’ struggles. They are not focused on exploiting the Celtics’ either. While they could view Kevin Garnett’s restricted playing time and the recent depletion of the Celtics bench as a window of opportunity to steal the second seed, the Magic are paying more attention to their own team.
‘We’ve just got to continue to do things to win games,’ Howard said. ‘We can’t really focus in on how Cleveland or Boston’s playing. They’re still good teams without those key guys, so we’ve just got to come out every night and continue to get better. Hopefully we’re hot during the playoffs, and the team’s that hot during the playoffs is going to win.’