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Magic finds its niche at home

They simply shouldn't be doing this. There's no logical explanation why it's happening, except that maybe they're all having some sort of out-of-body experience and won't know what they've done until they come to in a couple of weeks. They wear the same skimpy suits, use the same official size and weight Spalding ball, and shoot at a metal rim that is stationed exactly 10 feet off the ground, whether it's in Salt Lake City or Sacramento.

What's more, they just got here. They have no tradition. Nobody's been with the club more than a year. Not the players, the coaches or the fans.

So how is it that your typically weak expansion team _ and that's what the Orlando Magic is _ can beat the Lakers, the Knicks, the Spurs, the 76ers (twice) and the Bulls (twice) at home, and yet get clobbered on the road the way typically weak expansion teams are supposed to?

How come they're 11-15 at home, which is sort of like getting your learners permit and then finishing third in the Indianapolis 500?

It didn't happen Tuesday night against Seattle. The Magic lost. In fact, they were pathetic.

But that doesn't change the facts.

The reason Seattle won was because they're a mediocre team. Sorry, but the Magic only beats teams that have a clear shot at winning the NBA title. They slay only giants.

Conventional wisdom says that only the truly great teams make house calls on a regular basis. That even debate teams perform better at home than on the road.

And that's certainly part of the reason for Orlando's success. It is loud here. On a typical night, the decibel level inside the Orlando Arena is somewhere between Niagra Falls and a Guns & Roses concert, with the concert being louder. Bulls coach Phil Jackson complained about the noise. Charles Barkley, Bill Laimbeer and Michael Jordan complained about it, too.

San Antonio coach Larry Brown went so far as to verbally abuse Magic public address announcer Paul Porter for giving one of his players, former Florida star Vernon Maxwell, a hard time. All Porter did was say Maxwell's name. (Okay, so he sang it a couple of times. At least he was in key.)

"I think of myself as a ringleader," said Porter, who is now banned for life from the Alamo.

The point is that the fans do help.

"On days when you're not feeling as good as you could or you're moving a little slow, the crowd really picks you up so that you find yourself trying just a little harder," said guard Reggie Theus.

But you can't give all the credit to all the sixth men and women in this little Den of Din. After all, there are other arenas that are loud. The Hubert H. Humphrey Dome in Minneaplois is the original Round Mound of Sound. And then there's the Boston Garden and the Spectrum and the Omni and the Forum.

But people who've been around the league say Orlando's fans are louder. To understand why, you have to ask yourself just who are these people?

When the Magic go on the road, the permanent population of Orlando is reduced by nearly a third, so you have to wonder how many of these people are tourists.

And those of us who live here year-round know that after a couple of days at Disney World, Sea World, Sweat World and the various other Worlds, you'd yell at anything that moved.

There is, however, another reason. A reason that, tragically, is based, at least in part, in sound reasoning.

The Magic planned it this way.

Back when the franchise was born _ what? a couple of minutes ago _ the front office people figured the team had to be good at something. They had to have an identity.

"The Lakers are identified with the fastbreak and the Pistons are a physical team," said assistant coach John Gabriel. "We just wanted to take one area that we could be known for.

"We're tough at home."

Well, some of the time anyway.

"We just have to figure out a way to schedule all our games at home," said forward Terry Catledge, Orlando's leading scorer and rebounder. "If we could do that, we'd go to the playoffs."

Well, there's another problem.

Going to the playoffs.

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