"When you're on a team when you know you're good enough to do it, it hurts," guard Anfernee Hardaway said yesterday.
So the question for the Magic going into the off-season -- which could begin this evening -- is where to go from here. When the Bulls were eliminated by the Magic in last year's playoffs, they made off-season changes geared totally toward defeating Orlando.
With the Bulls seemingly poised to accomplish that, the Magic likely will have to go into the off-season with a similar philosophy.
"There's a lot that can happen over the summer with free agency," Magic general manager John Gabriel said yesterday. "If the Bulls are the Bulls again come October, then you make your decision from there."
Magic center Shaquille O'Neal will become a free agent at the end of this season, and there are rumors he wants to play next season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"He'll be in L.A. for sure," said Bulls forward Dennis Rodman, who has guarded O'Neal during the series. "There's a lot more opportunity out there for movies, records, endorsements. Why not? There's all the money in the world for him out there."
But even if O'Neal stays (he probably will average more than $20 million in his new deal) and forms the nucleus along with Hardaway, the Magic still is in need of big changes. The starting lineup, which also includes Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, was good enough to help the Magic win 60 games this season. But the current series has exposed the flaws of Orlando, which appears to need an offense that offers more diversity than Hardaway and O'Neal.
"Right now, we know what they're going to do: give it to Shaq and Penny and that's it," Rodman said. "There's no variety. They can't shoot. They have no tricks in their bag. It's very easy to defend them."
What the Magic, even though it made the Finals last year, might be lacking is mental toughness.
"Mental preparedness for the games is going through these situations before, knowing how to finish a game," said the Bulls' Michael Jordan, who has three championship rings to support his case. "Those are the experiences I felt we had. And those are the experiences they are learning."
The Magic also might go into next season with a new coach. Thus far this series, the Bulls have shut down Anderson and Scott. In a playoff series, coaches have to make adjustments, and their ineffectiveness has yet to be addressed.
All Brian Hill was talking about yesterday was trying to get his team through the series with its pride intact.
"Pride is everything," said Hill, in his third year at the helm of Orlando. "It's not what you achieve in life, but what you become along the road. We'll find out [today] what these guys are or what they are becoming as professional athletes by the way we take the floor."
And if they don't win, it might be the last time we see this particular Magic team.
"We're not even talking about that now. When the time comes, that's when that will be talked about," Hardaway said. "We'd like to keep these guys together. I think we're good enough."
NOTES: Orlando's Brian Shaw (neck spasms) is doubtful, Anderson (sprained right wrist) is questionable and Jon Koncak (sore left knee) will likely start and play limited minutes. . . . O'Neal said he has not been frustrated by Rodman's antics. "If I get frustrated, I start swinging," O'Neal said. . . . Scott, Orlando's top three-point threat, is 2-for-13 (15.4 percent).
Pub Date: 5/27/96