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Magic act: Surviving the West

The prognosis for the Orlando Magic's shift to the Midwest Division is not good. But as coach Matt Guokas has so often said, "We have to learn to live with it." "Everybody plays the same number of road games," Guokas said. "We'll just be spending more time in the air and in airports."

Orlando spent its first season in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. But the Magic now adjourns to the Midwest Division of the Western Conference before taking up permanent residence in the Atlantic Division (East) next year.

The timing couldn't be worse.

After a decade of losing seasons in interconference play, the West made a big reversal last season. The West's record against East teams in 1988-89 was 126-186 (.404). Last year, Western teams went 198-166 (.544) against the East.

At least five West teams _ Portland, Phoenix, Utah, the Lakers and San Antonio _ are expected to seriously contend for the NBA title.

Including San Antonio's David Robinson, the 1989-90 rookie of the year, four of the top five rookies in the league played for Western teams.

Also, Western teams have benefited from a series of trades. Last season, the West acquired talented players from the East such as Terry Cummings, Buck Williams, Ron Harper and Rod Strickland. This year, Jeff Malone moved from Washington to Utah.

Playing in the Midwest Division, Orlando will face each Western Conference team at least four times. It plays division members Dallas, Houston and Utah five times each.

Guokas has conferred with Miami and Charlotte about playing in the West. Both expansion teams played one season in the Midwest Division. Charlotte won 19 games, Miami 15.

"Having talked to both coaches (Miami's Ron Rothstein and Charlotte's Gene Littles), they said to get ready. No matter what you've heard or seen, you don't really know until it happens to you," said Guokas.

DIVISION HOPPING

The Orlando Magic will play in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference this season. Next season, they will move to their permanent home, the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. A breakdown:

1989-90 1990-91 After 1991

Central Midwest Atlantic

Orlando Orlando Orlando

Atlanta Dallas Boston

Chicago Denver Miami

Cleveland Houston New Jersey

Detroit Minnesota New York

Indiana San Antonio Philadelphia

Milwaukee Utah Washington

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