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Laker or playoff inspired team?

It has been three days since the Magic beat up on the Los Angeles Lakers, but it's hard to simply forget that game if you've been following Orlando all season.

In a word, the Magic was breathtaking.

Perhaps the best compliment you could give Orlando is that it administered a Chicago-like beating to the Lakers. That is to say, the Magic, playing with an emotion unseen this season, didn't get some midgame cold spell from Los Angeles to help it open a big lead, but rather progressively hammered the Lakers harder and harder until it humanely backed off.

When you beat teams like that _ even though L.A. was without Shaquille O'Neal and Robert Horry _ you not only win games, but you also send a message.

It was interesting that Penny Hardaway announced afterward that "we feel like we can play that way any time."

Oh really? Well, for heaven's sake, why didn't they do it when they were losing to Phoenix and Golden State and grappling with lowly Boston in overtime?

It doesn't, of course, matter now. What's done is done.

After Tuesday night's game, Orlando has 13 games left, including key ones over the next week or so against New York (at home on Sunday, at New York on April 4) and Chicago on April 6 _ teams Orlando might face in the first round of the playoffs.

Here's a suggestion for the Magic down the stretch: After the way it played Sunday, maybe the Magic ought to pretend it is playing the Lakers the rest of the season.

Said Lakers guard Nick Van Exel of the Magic's intensity on Sunday: "When they're playing like that, they are real hard to beat."

Orlando, are you listening?

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES: During O'Neal's trip to Orlando over the weekend, he spent time with Magic forward Dennis Scott, who has remained good friends with O'Neal even though they no longer are teammates.

Scott said the two hung out together at his house where they had a cookout Saturday afternoon. They later visited O'Neal's mother, who still lives in Orlando and regularly attends Magic games.

"Then he tried to get me to hang out with him all night," Scott said. "He said, "Let's go cruising around like we used to.' But I said, "I've got to get up at 10 o'clock in the morning (tip-off was 12:30). You don't.'