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Four-game road stint puts Magic in role of the hunted

Take it from Nick Anderson. It's never felt better to be playing for the Magic.

A franchise-record seven consecutive victories pushed Shaquille O'Neal & Co. 13 games over .500 for the first time in club history and rekindled hopes of catching first-place New York in the Atlantic Division.

"It's good for the team," Anderson said.

Sunday's 114-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, combined with the Knicks' 92-78 loss to the Phoenix Suns, left the Magic trailing New York by two games going into Tuesday's late game at Houston, which had the second-best record in the Western Conference.

After playing six of its last seven games at home, Orlando (33-20) began a key four-game road trip Tuesday night.

"We've had a schedule that's been conducive for us playing well," said reserve guard Scott Skiles. "Now we're going to see what we're made of."

The beauty of the surge, coach Brian Hill insisted, is his young team _ unbeaten since the All-Star break and 7-1 with a restructured lineup that debuted Feb. 6 _ has barely begun to scratch the surface of its potential.

The team's stars, O'Neal and rookie Anfernee Hardaway, are only 21. Anderson is just beginning to feel comfortable at shooting guard after starting the season at small forward, streak-shooter Dennis Scott's game is improving after three mostly disappointing seasons and power forward Anthony Avent has been with the club for just six weeks.

"There's a lot of room for improvement," Hill said.

His concern is not with trying to catch the Knicks, but merely continuing to play well.

"There's really not a lot of pressure on us. But what's going to happen now with the streak is we're going to be the hunted," he said. "As well as we've played to win these seven games, we're probably going to have to play even better to win a couple on this trip."