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Magic bears well under the weight of expectations

Orlando's near-playoff run and off-season activity have made it a favorite in the Eastern Conference.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


ORLANDO -- Training camp begins today for the new-look Magic. But on Monday the team played its first game -- the expectations game.

A team of no-names bonded together strongly last season as Orlando finished a stunning fourth in the Atlantic Division, just two wins short of the playoffs. Expectations are that team can rule the Eastern Conference with the additions of All-Star Grant Hill and budding star Tracy McGrady.

Expectations are that coach of the year Doc Rivers can work his magic again and that the new-look Magic will look better than the new-look Pacers, Knicks or Heat.

Is it fair to heap all that pressure on Orlando? Is it really an elite team? Is it too much to expect anything but mere improvement from last season's 41-41 record?

Rivers knows his answer: Bring it on.

"You want expectations," he said. "I wanted it as a player, I want it as a coach. We're all talking about the same thing, just trying to have the opportunity to be a winner, to do it all.

"I don't know if that's this year or next year or whatever, but I want those expectations."

He got it at Monday's media day at the RDV Sportsplex, the team's training facility, as team members speculated on how good the 2000-01 edition could be.

Expectations are high for very good reasons: The additions of Hill and McGrady, the leadership of versatile point guard Darrell Armstrong, the reliable production of Bo Outlaw, the continued maturation of forward John Amaechi, all combined with Rivers' frenetic, up-tempo coaching style.

Today, the second-year coach starts putting his new team through the rigors of Camp Rivers at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. The team practices there until Sunday. The first preseason game is Oct. 10 against Miami at Orlando's TD Waterhouse Centre. Orlando plays Detroit on Oct. 13 at the Ice Palace in Tampa.

Hill said expectations from outside the organization, or from the organization, don't compare to the ones from himself.

"I leave that to the media and the barber shops," he said. "I don't know. I want to win them all. Every time you have a chance to lace them up and go out there. Whatever it takes to be the No. 1 (playoff) seed."

McGrady, who left Toronto in part to be closer to his native Auburndale, was brash and confident.

"(We'll win) 60 games, if I tell you anything less, then I'm degrading myself," he said. "I'm shooting for high numbers. I believe that we can do it."

Isn't that putting too much pressure on the team?

"I love it, I love it," McGrady said. "I don't feel pressure. I love it."

Armstrong said high expectations motivate him.

"I'm very excited because the expectations are very high," he said. "I love the challenge. When people expect you to win, it makes you want to work hard."

Expectations, though, are a double-edged sword. Amaechi remembers well the expectations for last year's team. They weren't very high.

"Everybody thought we would be terrible," he said. "(If) someone last year told me we would win five games when they looked at our team with their great (body) of knowledge; (now) they look at our team again this year with their great knowledge and say we're going to be great. Last year they were wrong.

"My expectation is that we will play hard every day; not infight, because that's not the type of team we are; and be a quality group of characters. That, in itself, will be just fine."

McGrady said all the hype, all those high expectations are natural, though, considering the level of talent and potential on the roster.

"That's how it is, that's just the way it is," he said. "You just have to deal with it.

"Don't feel any pressure about it, just live up to it."

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