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Despite Finals Loss, Elite Status Imminent for the Orlando Magic

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Despite Finals Loss, Elite Status Imminent for the Orlando Magic
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Orlando was stopped short of its goal on Sunday night—its first NBA championship.

The Magic were handed their eighth NBA Finals loss of all time, losing 99-86 to the 2008-2009 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

However, the feelings of Orlando players, coaches, staff, and fans should depict optimism rather than sadness.

Orlando (59-23) undoubtedly had its best season in its 20-year existence during the 2008-2009 campaign. Its 59-win season is second all-time only to the 60-win season the '95-'96 team achieved.

The Magic's magical playoff run included 13 wins and 11 losses, with thrilling finishes in every stage.

One of those 13 wins was Orlando's first ever NBA Finals win (1-8).

Even more history was broken at the hands of the Magic during the playoffs.

The Boston Celtics, who were previously unbeaten in homecourt closeout games, are now 32-1 in that respective category.

Also, Orlando's amazing 75 percent shooting display in the first half of Game Three of the NBA Finals was the highest percentage in any half of an NBA Finals game.

The 62.5 percent shooting from the field at the end of game three was also the best the NBA Finals has displayed.

Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, and Mickael Pietrus played exceptionally well in the postseason, averaging 77.8 points per game combined. All of these players will be returning for the '09-'10 season, that is if GM Otis Smith can sign Turkoglu back to the Magic.

The Magic have always been regarded as a team lacking a true leader. Dwight Howard has been proclaimed as only a defensive threat, not an offensive one. However, throughout the playoffs, Hedo Turkoglu proved his leadership tremendously.

Turkoglu has opted out of his contract, however.

Even if Turkoglu decides to take another team's offer this upcoming off-season, the Magic know who their leaders will be.

After the final buzzer sounded, two Magic players sat on the Orlando bench as their teammates drizzled into the locker room full of melancholy.

"What I just told Jameer is look at it, just see how they're celebrating," Dwight Howard told the Associated Press after the Game Five loss. "And it should motivate us to want to get in the gym, want to get better, just to see those guys celebrating."

Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson will use this loss as a motive for next season, which will solidify themselves as true leaders.

Howard will need to improve his offensive artillery substantially. With his work ethic, the Defensive Player of the Year will need to gain more post moves ranging from his hook shots to up-and-under type moves.

"Well, I can't get frustrated. I think this series, a lot of things didn't go my way, and I got a little frustrated, and I think that's one of the biggest areas that I can improve on," Howard admitted.

"I know my game will continue to get better because I'm an extremely hard worker. I work on my game every day, so I'm not worried about that part. Just mentally, just being able to stay in the moment, staying in the game, bad calls or not touching the ball, the ball is not going in when you shoot it. Some of that stuff is frustrating at times."

Nelson needs to worry about getting healthier, even though he does not regret making an NBA Finals appearance.

"I don't regret coming back," Nelson told the Associated Press. "I regret some of the plays I made, but I don't regret coming back. Now I just have to listen to the training staff and get ready to play next season. I'll be fine."

If motivation from a Finals loss does not persuade many, look what Kobe Bryant just accomplished.

The Magic gains substantial experience as a team, a team that lacks much playoff experience, with the exception of Anthony Johnson.

This type of experience is extraordinary for a team with an average age of just 27.6 years old.

Rookie Courtney Lee and guard JJ Redick will benefit tremendously from an NBA Finals appearance so early in their respective careers. Tayshaun Prince is a prime example of such a player.

Experience is always a factor come playoff time. Orlando's lack of experience this year may have been the reason why the Magic could not close out some of its postseason games.

With this added experience and leadership, the Magic will look to improve on its already dominating offensive and defensive game. Orlando was in the top 10 in both points per game and points allowed during the regular season.

With much needed offensive and defensive sets, along with strategy and chemistry, Orlando has a lot of work to do this off-season.

However, if Stan Van Gundy and the Magic come into next season with the same intensity as they did through much of the playoffs, Orlando will continue to pose problems for many NBA teams, and prove to be one of the league's best.

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