The Orlando Magic are 14-4 with the best record in the Eastern Conference, at this point, but head coach Stan Van Gundy (and the players) are not content because they understand the season is lengthy. Things change. As such, it's no surprise that Van Gundy was bemoaning the pick and roll defense after practice was over earlier this afternoon because he's looking for improvement in that area - not only against the New York Knicks tomorrow, but for the remainder of the year. Van Gundy wasn't shy to praise Jason Williams' effort on the defensive side of the ball, though (validating what the numbers have said, so far).
I was able to speak with Van Gundy amongst the media, as well as Dwight Howard.
Here's what they had to say:
Stan Van Gundy:
How's the pick and roll defense looking?
It didn't look much better today than it did on Sunday so we'll keep going, we'll keep working on it.
What's the biggest thing you're working on to improve with that?
Well, I mean, we just got to ... it really requires five guys and we'll get three or four, maybe, making the right rotations and stuff on a play. One guy is a little bit late and you're in trouble. We just got to keep working and getting better on it and we will continue to. We still got tomorrow to work on it, really the whole year. I mean, we got to get better.
Do you think you're getting better balance lately on offense, with Dwight Howard and the inside-out game?
Well, I thought we did a good job on the road trip of getting him the basketball and playing from the inside-out a little bit more so some nights it's harder than others, to get him shots, based on how people play but we should be able to get him the ball more. We worked on some things today to try to improve that and we will continue to but I thought we did a much, much better job on the road trip.
How much is it a luxury to have not just one stretch four, but two, on your roster?
I think it helps us in that we can play more minutes at the same style. What we had the first two years here is basically when Rashard [Lewis] came out of the game, we did a little bit of it with Brian Cook, but he wasn't playing a lot so we weren't really able to stay with that style of play so you really had to learn two different styles, play two different styles. It makes it a little easier, I think with our guys, with Ryan [Anderson].
You've talked about J-Will's assist-to-turnover ratio, what's impressed you the most about him so far this season?
Well, that's been good, the fact that he's turning the ball over once every 30 minutes, which is really impressive for a point guard, but I think more than that, just his energy and I think the surprising thing a little bit has been how hard he's been competing defensively. I think he's a guy that's never been known for his defense, and I'm not ready to nominate him for the All-Defensive team, but he's competed hard defensively. I think he's out there working his butt off on every possession.
More after the jump (including a J.J. Redick teaser).
Could you talk a little bit about the team's depth? I know you guys have been dealing with injuries, illnesses, and some other stuff.
Well, we understand that during the season, there's going to be guys out with injuries and sicknesses or whatever but as a team, we got to remains strong when those guys do go out. It's tough when you have some good players, our key players miss games because of injury or illness, but coach [Stan Van Gundy] does a great job of just firing up our team when others are down.
Stan talks about the importance of playing inside-out. Do you think you guys have been playing with better balance lately?
Well, we understand as a team what we got to do to win. We have to play inside-out to be successful. We can't really rely just on our three-point shooting because there's going to be nights where we don't shoot the ball well so one thing that we can do, besides defense, is get the ball in the paint. Whether that's driving in the paint and kicking out for open shots or post-ups.
Do you expect a different gameplan from the New York Knicks tomorrow, in terms of looks and what they're going to throw at you?
Both teams are going to have different game-plans, I know we are. We didn't do a great job on the pick and roll and we're going to come back with a better plan than that so we're going to have a different gameplan. I'm pretty sure they are too but we can't make any excuses but we didn't have a lot of time to get ready for New York the way we wanted to because of the back-to-back so we got a day off, we got another day just to get ourselves ready and focused on what we're going to do so you'll probably see much better defensive effort out of us.
Odds and Ends:
Unfortunately, this will be my last practice report and tomorrow will be my last game I cover for a while. I'm going to be flying back up to Chicago this weekend to start preparing for grad school at Northwestern University so I won't be able to continue to post practice reports, post-game media availabilities, or recaps for the foreseeable future. Duty calls - namely, my journalism education (don't worry, I'll still be posting for the site). Luckily, Ben will start picking things up where I left off relatively soon.
The good news is that I will be able to cover the Magic when the team plays the Bulls and maybe the Bucks (I don't know about the latter). After that, who knows. I'll make sure to keep my options open, nevertheless.
So, as a special treat, I was also able to speak with J.J. Redick one-on-one earlier today. Normally, I'd my post my quotes with whatever else I gather at practice, but I'll reserve the transcript for tomorrow morning since I was able to speak with him for about 5-10 minutes on a number of subjects. Be on the lookout for that.