It says something about the Orlando Magic’s uncertain future that their final exhibition of the 2011 preseason felt so important.
Their franchise player wants a trade, and the entire team looked almost comatose in its preseason opener.
On Wednesday, however, Dwight Howard and his teammates showed some fight.
After trailing by as many as 23 points midway through the second quarter, the Magic stormed back to beat the Miami Heat 104-100 at Amway Center. The final result will not count in any standings, but at least the team has some momentum for its season opener Christmas night.
“It shows a lot of progress,” said Howard, who scored 15 points and collected nine rebounds. “The first game when we got down, we stayed down.”
Not this time.
Jameer Nelson, who missed his first 15 shots this preseason, finished with 14 points and 10 assists.
Davis brought the announced sellout crowd to life with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter. After he hit a running hook shot to put the Magic up 72-70, Davis fell to the ground, came to a rest on his belly and opened his mouth, like the orca.
“It’s a reaction,” said Davis, who made seven of his eight shot attempts.
“I always watch soccer, right? And, also, I pass by SeaWorld. [I was] like Shamu coming up, 'Hey!' It was cool. It gave the crowd a little something to laugh at.”
The preseason finale offered fans an opportunity to show Howard how much they appreciate him.
Wednesday morning, Ryan Totka, the founder of StayDwight.com, urged fans via Twitter to stand up with two minutes remaining in each quarter and cheer “Stay Dwight! Stay Dwight!”
Those synchronized cheers never materialized.
Fans did not boo Howard.
But the preseason finale was no more of a Howard lovefest than a typical regular-season game.
They cheered him when he made good plays.
They hollered and applauded when Howard followed a long Jason Richardson miss by elevating off the ground, collecting the rebound above the rim and slamming the ball home.
One woman sitting in the stands held a piece of posterboard that featured a blue heart read: “Don’t leave me Dwight.”
Quentin Richardson, who started at small forward in place of injured Hedo Turkoglu, showed some fight. Retaliating for some contact from James, Richardson did his best impression of an NFL safety, slamming his shoulder into James’ chest.
Richardson earned a technical foul for his actions. And James shot an air ball on Miami’s ensuing possession.
“That’s just the way I play,” Richardson said. “I’ve always played that way my whole life. I don’t know any other way. If somebody pushes you, you push back. You don’t back down.”
On Wednesday, the Magic didn’t back down, even though they missed their first 12 shots and trailed 12-0 to begin the game.
While Howard played well, his teammates didn’t — at least not in the first half.
The rest of the roster scored just 29 points on 9-of-35 shooting. It committed 11 turnovers.
“Even in the first half, I thought we really came out with good energy and good life,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We just couldn’t make a shot.”
And now the Magic can look forward.
They open their season Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City.
And the Magic should have some optimism as that game approaches.
“We definitely needed a couple of preseason games,” Richardson said.
“But as a player, I definitely like regular-season and playoff games better.”
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