|Van Gundy positioning Orlando toward elusive title|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 28 January 2009 06:24|
A gift from the Orlando Magic coach to himself, a reward for his team's sizzling start to the season? Not really. Van Gundy simply needed one because of engine problems in the old one.
Of course, that's what happens when someone engulfed by work forgets to change his oil for 30,000 miles.
``It's not to say that it's a joyless existence,'' Van Gundy said. ``But you don't have time to focus on the record and 'Oh, well, we're doing well' and all that. The next game up is all you're really focused on.''
It's a simple approach, one Van Gundy has always had, whether it was at Castleton State in Vermont, or as Pat Riley's replacement with the Miami Heat or even now with the Magic, who matched their best first-half start in franchise history. Orlando (34-10) plays host to the Cleveland Cavaliers (35-8) on Thursday - a game between two of the league's elite clubs.
The approach works, too.
``I give all the credit to Stan Van Gundy,'' forward Rashard Lewis said. ``He's always giving us some type of challenge, if it's in practice or in a meeting or right before a game. He keeps us on our toes and says we've always got to improve. It's going to be tougher when the playoffs roll around in April, and we know we're not that team yet.''
Thursday might be another good test to see how close Orlando is to becoming that team.
The Magic have an All-Star center in Dwight Howard, just got Mickael Pietrus back from a broken wrist, and just had a 135-point explosion in beating Indiana. Cleveland has MVP-worthy LeBron James leading the way, and Mo Williams coming off a 43-point night against Sacramento.
Still, there's no shortage of NBA believers in Magic.
``They are the best team in the East ... hands down,'' Indiana's Danny Granger said.
If that's the case, it speaks volumes about Van Gundy, for whom coaching is practically an all-consuming quest.
There's not much that Van Gundy would list as a priority. He and wife Kim are raising four children, and just as he did in Miami, Van Gundy says it's hard having his kids growing up - the oldest is a high school junior - without being around the house much. Other than family and his offseason devotion to baseball, Van Gundy's life pretty much revolves basketball.
e on Christmas Day. There was a montage on the TV broadcast in the third quarter of Van Gundy contorting his face, holding his head in his hands, doubling over in anguish and generally looking like someone in intense pain over the way his team was playing.
They were beating the New Orleans Hornets by 31 points.
``It's probably one of the best qualities Stan has. He wears his emotions out on his sleeve,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a close friend of Van Gundy and now a Southeast Division rival. ``He's always 100 percent real. He's not coming from any other angle, other than what he's actually feeling.''
Van Gundy can be brutally honest, too. From players taking bad shots to criticizing the Bowl Championship Series' method of crowning a college football champion and just about anything else, he isn't shy about offering his opinion.
It was a tough lesson for some Magic players to learn. Now, they know it's simply Stan being Stan.
``In the beginning, I don't think anybody understood how intense he was and how passionate he was about playing the right way, doing everything right, everything being perfect,'' point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``But he's a great coach. We understand him now. We never hold grudges. He's allowed to say something to you, you can say something back, and then we go play.''
Sometimes, it's all Nelson can do to not laugh.
onth, when an errant pass sailed toward the Magic bench and Van Gundy stuck his hand in the air to snare it, all without missing stride in whatever he was ranting about at the time.
``He's screaming - 'AARGH' - and then he'll say, 'That was a great catch, right?''' Nelson said. ``I love the guy.''
The Magic would be hard-pressed not to feel the same way.
Orlando won the Southeast Division last year in Van Gundy's debut with the Magic, and entering Wednesday, had an eight-game lead in this year's divisional chase.
The Magic are 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland and only one game in the loss column behind reigning NBA champion Boston in the Eastern Conference standings, and the winning coach Thursday - Van Gundy or the Cavs' Mike Brown - could wind up as the East coach in next month's All-Star game.
For Van Gundy, a trip to Phoenix would very much be a double-edged sword.
``You want to play well and have the great record,'' Van Gundy said. ``But to be honest, what it would mean to me is I don't get those four days off. I look forward to that time as a time at home where I can be with my family more. But I would love to see us on top of the East. Coaching the thing, that's not a goal of mine at all.''
No, his lone goal is clear. In every Magic player's locker, a picture of the NBA championship trophy is taped to a wall.
With Van Gundy at the controls, Orlando has emerged as a contender - a huge turnaround considering the Magic spent much of the previous decade as little more than also-rans in the East.
``It's a long season, but obviously, success helps you get through it,'' Van Gundy said. ``And it has been enjoyable.''