ORLANDO — The visualization process for Dwight Howard is simple: See yourself winning. Win.
That's why when the center says, "We should win this series," as he did Friday and again Saturday as Orlando prepares to meet Boston in the Eastern Conference final beginning today, it's not overconfidence or bravado. It's his way of making sure the Magic doesn't even think about losing.
"We have to believe that we're going to win," Howard said. "If nobody on the team believes it, we're not going to do it. We all believe we can win a championship, and that's the way we have to approach this series, that we're going to win. … Nobody can think about losing."
Not every team can or does talk about winning a championship even before the season begins. As the Magic went through its preseason acquisitions, every player who joined the team said he came to Orlando to win a title.
The road back to the NBA Finals has been relatively easy for the Magic so far, with 4-0 series sweeps over the Hawks and Bobcats. Forward Matt Barnes joked that coach Stan Van Gundy would be happier if the team struggled so he had a reason to yell and scream at the players.
But none expects this best-of-seven series with Boston to lack adversity.
"We know … that there's not going to be any sweeps," Barnes said. "If there's a blowout, it'll be a fluke blowout. … These are two of the better defensive teams in the league, so we know we're going into battle."
The Celtics held the Magic to a franchise-low eight points in the second quarter of their Christmas Day matchup. But the Magic has insisted all season that it is good enough to beat anyone.
Howard said: "I think if we play the right way, sky's the limit for us. We should win the series, but we all have to believe that, and we have to understand that it's not going to be easy."
Lakers flip focus from defending to repeating
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — With Kobe Bryant leading a balanced offense and a sturdy defensive effort, the Lakers have won six straight games heading into Monday's Western Conference final opener against the Suns, who also have won six in a row.
Bryant praised the Lakers' increased aggressiveness and poise over the past few weeks, shifting their mind-set from defending the NBA title to winning another.
"It changes the sense of urgency that you play with," the guard said. "You're playing with the confidence and the certain amount of attention you need to win something."
Fellow four-time NBA champ Derek Fisher echoed Bryant's sentiments. "There's been a little bit of an adjustment, at least by our play," the point guard said. "It looked like we were playing to protect something, as opposed to going to get something."
Coach Phil Jackson isn't satisfied, either. His past two practices were particularly long and detailed, said Ron Artest, who said the Lakers are working on defensive communication to stick with Steve Nash and the Suns' sophisticated offense.
"We're still trying to get guys to find themselves and get immersed in what they have to do to play their best game," Jackson said. "We want that to be habitual."
Jackson got a chuckle out of Nash's response to his suggestion that the guard carries the ball too much. Nash said he got no complaints in the last round from San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, "the best coach in the league."
"I didn't complain about it," Jackson said. "Did you hear me complain about it?"
One thing the Lakers are watching is center Andrew Bynum, who has a small tear in his meniscus of his right knee. He said the knee has been worsening after running in practice.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.