Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy addressed the media moments ago, in advance of his team's highly anticipated matchup against the Miami Heat. Both teams are coming off losses, and for Van Gundy, defense against the Heat's lethal offense is a prime concern. The Magic must protect the paint and close out on shooters, which Van Gundy said they struggled to do in Monday's loss to San Antonio and in their loss to the Heat in October.
Van Gundy has a pretty good idea about which teams look strongest in the early part of the season. "Other than maybe L.A., San Antonio, Boston, I think everybody's got a long way to go," he said. Note he omitted the Magic and the Heat from that list.
Franchise center Dwight Howard has made strides offensively, the brightest part of the Magic's season to date. Here's how Van Gundy assessed his young center's progress:
"The biggest improvement he's made his he's playing with a lot more patience in the low post. He's not forcing the issue when people come down, he's staying uder control, he's throwing the ball out more willingly. I just see a maturity in his game even more than any additional moves or anything else. A real high confidence level... he's played very well."
Miami, already lacking in frontcourt depth, recently lost backup big man Udonis Haslem due to ligament damage in his left foot. To compensate for his loss, it signed free-agent center Erick Dampier. Though Van Gundy praised Dampier's defense, he stressed the Heat's addition of Dampier "doesn't change the way we play the game." He contrasted Dampier's skills with those of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Miami's starter. "Z changes the way we have to play the game defensively because of his ability to pick-and-pop," Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy was also asked, given the high-profile and hated nature of tonight's opponent, I presume, to comment on the idea that certain players perform better on the road when heckled. And it was here where Van Gundy was at his most quotable. "The way people say they feed off it and stuff, you know, usually you'll hear that after they have a really good game," he said. "Not before the game, and not after they went 2-for-12. But afterwards, they'll say it really motivated them and stuff. Come on."
Another reporter then asked Van Gundy if anything a fan said motivated him. Van Gundy's classic response, suitable for framing:
"I've heard a lot of things from fans, though. Look, I thin most players are the same: I don't need a lot of motivation. It's not like I'm walking out there, like I don't feel like doing my job, and then I'm like, 'Oh [expletive], a fan said something, I'm gonna [expletive] coach tonight!' And I don't think players are like that either."