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Orlando Magic Practice Report: Stan Van Gundy Concerned with His Team's Focus, as Well as Portland's Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge

The Orlando Magic haven't played the Portland Trail Blazers in over a year, but are still well prepared to take them on tonight. Coach Stan Van Gundy effusively praised Portland shooting guard Brandon Roy and big man LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as the Blazers' overall effort and energy level; his Magic charges echoed those sentiments. The team is on-point and ready to go, having lost three of their last five games to drop to 4th place in the Eastern Conference, and second in the Southeast Division. Said Van Gundy, "the bottom line is that we're fourth in the East right now, and that's not where we want to be."

The biggest takeaways from today's shootaround are these: Van Gundy believes the team has lost its focus, which happens a few times throughout the season; he used the phrase "autopilot" at one point to describe his team's effort and focus. Complacency is also a concern of his.

Interestingly, he also said Jameer Nelson, who's missed over a month due to left knee surgery, practiced today and will go again tomorrow if he experiences no swelling or pain. If all goes well, Nelson will return Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, which will be the five-week mark of Nelson's surgery, right in the middle of doctors' initial projection of a 4-to-6 week recovery time.

Stan Van Gundy:

What makes Portland a tough team to play?

Well, I think ... two great players in Roy and Aldridge, which is normally where it starts with teams, and a team that plays with a real good pace and energy. They defend very hard, they've got great overall size, so they've got a lot of very good things going.

I'd like to add here that, in a later conversation with Magic play-by-play man Dennis Neumann, Van Gundy said that although Brandon Roy is an All-Star, he's still "overlooked" in the NBA. He also praised LaMarcus Aldrige, calling him the league's most underrated player, and singling out his ability to run the floor, his mid-range jumper, and his proficiency in the pick-and-roll as his strongest suits.

Have you been able to diagnose why your team seems to come out a bit flat?

Well, we've done that in three of the last four games, and so it's just everybody's gotta take the responsibility of being ready at the beginning of the game, being focused, and playing a lot harder. I think that our focus has not been as good, we have not been as tuned-in getting ready to play in games, and we haven't come with great intensity. So I think it's, you know, each individual guy's responsibility to come out and be ready to play.

After the jump, more from Van Gundy, as well as partial transcripts of the media's conversations with Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard.

On the team's lack of focus and the importance of the week ahead:

I think there's times in every season, unfortunately, where you get.. where you hit lulls in terms of your focus and things like that, and you've gotta try and get back and refocus and the whole thing. And you get in stretches, you're playing a lot of games, and you're putting it on autopilot and coming out without an intentional focus on what's going on, and it catches up to you. Hopefully we will come with much more intensity tonight, much more energy, and a clearer focus. We've got four very, very difficult games here right up until Christmas, four games in a week here that are all up against good teams, so it'll be a good test for us to see how far we can come in these four games.

On the team's health:

Yeah, everyone seemed good today and even Jameer practiced this morning. With thirteen guys out there, it got crowded.

On how Nelson looked in practice:

Well, we were basically preparing for Portland so we weren't going up and down the floor, but he looked good. He got in and battled.

On if he'll return to game action on Wednesday, as previously scheduled:

Well, I haven't heard anything differently. I'm sort of at the mercy of what the medical people tell me. They have told me it would be Wednesday at the earliest. The plan is after going through today, both his workout and our workout, the plan is for him to practice tomorrow if he doesn't have pain or swelling after today's workout, and we'll see where we are. But they have told me at this point that Wednesday will be the earliest [he could return].

Several Magic players stayed a bit after shootaround to work on their individual games. I watched these sessions in between Van Gundy's availability session and the players'. Here's what happened:

  • Brandon Bass worked on short (5-7 foot) jumpers, then practiced midrange shots from either baseline, where his shots hardly so much as touched the rim on their way in; he was just about automatic. He also worked on making a jab-step before elevating for a jumper, and his post moves from the left block, finishing with either a righty hook or a turnaround jumper.

  • Dwight Howard shot free throws, with assistant coach Patrick Ewing rebounding and occasionally taking notes on a small black pad he stowed in the pocket of his gym shorts. Howard is animated while practicing, but still focused. At one point, he expressed mock-outrage at Ewing ("Look what you made me do!") for reasons I couldn't discern. Later, he yelled the audible equivalent of his frequent YUUUUUAAAAA Twitter messages, running to midcourt and back in exultation.

  • J.J. Redick worked on mid-range jumpers, free throws, and three-pointers. Anthony Johnson worked through a similar routine a bit more extensively.
  • Redick, Johnson, and Howard did their workouts on the court's "main" baskets, with Bass shooting on one of the four "side" hoops. Bass moved to the basket Howard occupied once Howard retreated to the locker room.

  • Patrick Ewing Jr. sat on the sidelines wearing sandals and Magic practice gear, with tennis shoes nearby. It looked like he went through the team's workout this morning, but there's absolutely no indication that the Magic have any plans to add Ewing, whose draft rights are owned by the New York Knicks.

  • Jameer Nelson:

    Before I turned my recorder on, Nelson said he was looking forward to watching the Magic win tonight than he was about making his own return to the court.

    When did you know you'd be able to go today?

    Probably about a week ago.

    A week ago?

    Yeah, I can't tell you guys all my information. I keep a lot of things to myself. [Laughs]

    Rashard Lewis:

    On the importance of this stretch of their schedule in the wake of some recent unimpressive showing:

    You know, every game is important, especially playing at home. You always wanna take care of your home court. Gotta play some tough teams, protect our home court. We're trying to get ourselves prepared, to get better every game, to get better as a team.

    On what makes Portland a tough team to play:

    You know, they're a great team. They play together, they play fundamental. They have a lot of guys playing well. Brandon Roy's a tough player, they added Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge is a great player... so they have a number of guys that they can go to to win ballgames, and they always play hard.

    Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel asked Lewis, and a few other players, about Paul Pierce's recent suggestion that the NBA raise the rims three inches. Lewis said three inches "was a lot" and would make the game "more fundamental. He added that if he were commissioner, he would shorten the season to sixty games and extend the All-Star break to a full week. He added, with a laugh, "I'm tired!" If he's tired, it's not showing up in his play, as he's connected on 40% of his three-pointers over the last five games.

    Dwight Howard:

    On the importance of this stretch of their schedule in the wake of some recent unimpressive showing:

    We want to continue to get better as a team. We're playing against some pretty good teams in this stretch, and we all know that each game is important, each possession is important. We want to get five good wins at home.

    On what makes Portland a tough team to play:

    They're very active. They got a lot of guys who can score. It starts with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus... and then they got guys who can spot up and hit threes. So they're a very tough team. They run a lot, do a lot of movement, and it's going to be tough.

    On how he feels at the end of the third quarter when he plays the first 36 minutes of a game, as he's done in each of the Magic's last 2 games:

    I felt great last game. You know, if Coach wants me to play 48 minutes, then I have to 48 minutes. You know, I just wanna do what I can to make my team... to get my team a win. And if that's playing 48 minutes, then I have to play 48 minutes... I can only do so much, but I can do whatever I can. My teammates need me to be dominant, and to be dominant for however long it takes.

    Dan Savage of asked Howard if he had a chance to watch Blazers center Greg Oden play at all this season before he was injured. Howard smiled silently for four seconds before saying, in a near-whisper, "No, I didn't. Sorry." He said that it's hard for him to watch West Coast teams play, and that the West Coast games broadcasted via the NBA's newest mobile app that lets the user watch them on their phone doesn't get good service here.