ORLANDO, Fla. — Pick a moment.
All-star point guard Jameer Nelson going out with a shoulder tear in February. Dwight Howard calling out coach Stan Van Gundy for not getting the ball enough, or losing on four last-second shots in the playoffs.
The Orlando Magic have survived it all to reach the NBA final.
“We’ve been through everything you could possibly go through in the playoffs in one season,” Van Gundy said.
The Magic knocked off the defending champion Boston Celtics after falling behind in the series 3-2. They eliminated LeBron James and the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, and now Orlando is back in the final for the first time since 1995. Game 1 is Thursday night at Los Angeles.
But the Magic aren’t yet satisfied.
“You can look at everybody in the locker-room’s eyes as well as coach and tell that we are happy about getting to the final, but we are not tremendously happy enough yet,” forward Rashard Lewis said. “We like winning that silver basketball, but I think the gold basketball will be a little better than that silver one.”
The franchise has been here before.
Orlando’s only other final appearance ended swiftly, getting swept by the Houston Rockets. After Shaquille O’Neal bolted for Los Angeles in the summer of ’96, the franchise collapsed.
The Magic hit bottom in the 2003-04 season, with coach Doc Rivers getting fired and star Tracy McGrady demanding a trade.
They were 21-61 that season.
The No. 1 pick brought them another Superman.
Howard has talked about winning a title since he was drafted out of high school. The 23-year-old has quickly honed his skills, and his rare combination of size and speed has helped the Magic rise again.
“I think we started to bring back some magic in Orlando,” Howard said. “I felt that we were a laughing stock around the league. Everybody played the Magic, they thought about Disney World. So I just wanted to change that.”
Consider it done.
Howard had 40 points and 14 rebounds in a dominating Game 6 win Saturday night to power the Magic to a 4-2 series win over Cleveland. Things aren’t getting any easier.
“Our reward is, especially mine and my coaching staff’s, is you get to go from preparing for LeBron to preparing for Kobe,” Van Gundy said sarcastically. “That will be a lot of fun.”
Any test the Magic face they will likely be ready for — they’ve passed everything already.
Nelson went down in early February, and only a trade-deadline deal to get Rafer Alston from Houston kept them as contenders. Then came the playoffs, which has provided the ultimate heartbreak and satisfaction.
Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young each hit shots in the final moments to give Philadelphia wins in the first round series against the Magic. But they survived.
They lost on a Glen Davis’ shot as time expired in Game 4 of their second round series against Boston. And after the Magic blew a fourth-quarter lead in a devastating Game 5 meltdown, Howard publicly challenged Van Gundy for not getting him the ball enough. But they survived.
Then came the league MVP.
James averaged more than 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the conference final, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win Game 2 and a triple-double to steal Game 5. But again the Magic survived.
“I don’t think very many people thought we could win with all the stuff we’ve been through,” Van Gundy said.