Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy praised his team for its physical play in a hard-fought win over the defending NBA champions. Now he wants to see his players compete like that each time out -- not just in games against the league's premier teams.
The surging Magic again look to play with a bit of an edge and avoid a letdown when they host the struggling Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
After watching the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate a title in Orlando in June, the Magic (44-20) had been waiting all season for them to return. Sunday's finals rematch had the feel of a playoff game, and this time the Magic came out on top, pulling out a 96-94 victory for their fifth straight win.
Vince Carter had 25 points and Dwight Howard finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds for Southeast Division-leading Orlando, which won for the 15th time in 19 games.
"You could see it in everybody's faces and everybody's demeanor," Carter said. "Everybody on that floor wanted to win that game. It wasn't just, 'Yeah, OK, whatever.' It was, 'Let's go get it.' That game was Game 7."
It definitely had the intensity of an elimination game.
Matt Barnes and Kobe Bryant continuously traded elbows and got in each other's face, and three technical fouls and one flagrant were called in the contest.
"That was much more a battle than a basketball game," Van Gundy said. "I thought we battled them toe-to-toe, very hard. And, you want to build that into a habit. That's the way you play all the time. You know you've got 18 games to go, you can't screw around anymore. You need to play that hard all the time."
Orlando's first opportunity to show that it can comes against a Clippers team it has dominated of late.
The Magic have outscored Los Angeles by an average of 13.5 points in winning six straight in the series. In their first meeting of the season, a 97-86 Orlando victory at Staples Center on Dec. 8, Howard won the battle of All-Star centers on his 24th birthday.
He finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots and continuously frustrated Chris Kaman, who had 16 points and nine boards but missed 14 of 22 shots.
Kaman and the Clippers (25-38) arrive in Orlando after opening a five-game trip with a 107-85 loss to Utah on Saturday, their third straight and 15th in 20 games.
Los Angeles, which has been outscored by an average of 21.7 points during its skid, got off to a fast start against the Jazz with 32 first-quarter points. The Clippers, though, stagnated offensively and managed only 35 points after halftime.
That kind of sluggish performance has become common for the Clippers on the road. Los Angeles was held to 90 points or fewer in eight of its last 14 road games, and is 2-18 on the road since Dec. 21.
Getting things turned around in Orlando probably won't be easy, as the Magic have won 12 of 14 at Amway Arena, averaging 105.8 points in the victories.