LOS ANGELES - Dwight Howard hasn't been surprised by anything during his first trip to the NBA finals. It's all seemed so familiar to Orlando's center, like he's been here before.
If it wasn't June, it would be like any other game.
Sure, there's more media. There's "that big trophy everywhere you look." There's a stenographer sitting in on the press conferences.
"That's new," Howard noted. "Other than that, it's just basketball."
And as has been the case most of this season, the Magic appear to be in trouble.
Down 1-0 to the Los Angeles Lakers after being blown out 100-75 in Game 1, the Magic spent part of Friday watching film of their pathetic return to the finals after a 14-year hiatus. They got lit up by Kobe Bryant, who scored 40 points, and Howard and Orlando's other big men were dominated on the boards by the Lakers' frontline, which posted a 55-41 advantage in rebounding.
"Embarrassing," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy snorted.
Orlando was out of its league.
Bryant scored almost at will, punctuating each bucket by extending his lower jaw to show his lower teeth - a menacing look underscoring the self-proclaimed Black Mamba's drive at winning his fourth title. The Magic also hurt themselves by shooting 30 percent and missing open shots, and Howard was a non-factor on offense with 12 points and only one field goal, a 7-foot hook shot in the game's first two minutes.
The NBA's leading dunker didn't dunk. He didn't dominate. He didn't do diddly.
Howard knows he and his teammates have to do much more in Game 2 on Sunday night.
"We just didn't have any energy or effort," Howard said. "We didn't box out, all the little things. We can't control Kobe scoring 40 points, but we can control boxing out, getting loose balls, stuff like that, and we didn't do that. We have to come out with a better effort."
Howard's ineffectiveness was the main topic of conversation at Friday's media gathering. One reporter wondered if the sleeve on his arm may have affected his shot.
"Man, I just wear the sleeve because I like how it looks," Howard said, shaking his head in disbelief at the query. "It had nothing to do with making shots or anything. I started wearing it in practice, it felt good one day, and I thought, 'Man, I should wear this in the game.' It might make my shot look better."
Being in a hole is nothing new to the resilient Magic, it's where they've lived most of the season.
They made it to the finals despite losing All-Star guard Jameer Nelson for 42 games because of a shoulder injury, and they came from behind against Philadelphia and Boston to win previous series this postseason. Against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, the Magic shot their way back from impossible deficits.
They're down again, not out.
"It's just one game," said forward Hedo Turkoglu, who went just 3-of-11 from the floor. "It's a long series. We've got a couple days to work on some things. We know how good we are, and we know what we need to do to win."
A good place to start would be getting Howard more involved on offense.
Nothing came easy for him in Game 1. Like paparazzi swarming outside a nightclub for a magazine cover photo, the Lakers' forwards and centers were everywhere he turned. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom pushed him, prodded him, poked him.
Superman's cape got torn to shreds.
And when Howard got the ball deep in the lane, one of Los Angeles' guards would dive down on a double team and force him to pick it up. By the time he passed out from inside to an open teammate on the perimeter, the lengthy Lakers were able to recover and contest.
"They're going to make it tough to get Dwight rolling," Van Gundy said. "We got him the ball a lot, but they're always coming with another guy."
Van Gundy admitted he made a mistake in playing Nelson for the entire second quarter. In his first action since Groundhog Day, Nelson sparked the Magic early but then tired and faded. Van Gundy still plans to use him off the bench in Game 2, but will monitor his minutes more closely.
The Lakers aren't taking anything for granted. They may have won Game 1 without breaking a sweat, but their demeanor remained very businesslike during Friday's workout.
Bryant, whose kids have been calling him "Grumpy" because of his sour mood of late at home, remained stone faced. He answered questions with short, measured responses and only cracked a smile once.
Does he remember the Lakers' attitude before the finals last season?
"No," he said.
Is he driven to win a title to prove anything to LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal?
"Not at all," he said.
So why the frosty attitude?
"I'm just focused and ready to go," he said. "I've been pacing myself all year waiting for these playoffs to come around. The table is set."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.