The Orlando Magic may have the most wins in the NBA with a 15-4 record, for the moment, after a win against the New York Knicks but the coaches and players know that it means nothing. The individuals on the Magic understand that they still need to get better. Complacency may be an issue for other teams in the league but perhaps not for Orlando, given what head coach Stan Van Gundy demands from his squad night-in and night-out.
I was able to ask a few questions to Van Gundy amongst the media, as well as speak with Ryan Anderson one-on-one, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus one-on-one, Rashard Lewis, Brandon Bass, and Dwight Howard.
Here's what they had to say:
Stan Van Gundy:
With Jason Williams, it seemed like he had very active hands tonight. Could you talk about his defense?
I thought our whole team ... the one thing we did a real good job ... at the end of the day, their field goal percentage was real good because in the fourth quarter, we sort of shut it down but until then, we had guarded pretty well. I thought our whole team was really dialed in on their pick and roll game tonight. We got beat ... the two things they hurt us with was just individual, one-on-one going by us. We didn't guard very well one-on-one and they hurt us on the boards, particularly in the first half, but our pick and roll defense was the best it's ever been against them. I thought we did a very good job of rotating over to David Lee on the roll earlier and making that pass a little bit tougher. It's a pass they've killed us in the past so I was pretty happy overall. Now because we were in the paint, they got some threes and they knocked them down and hurt us there, but I was happy with the effort our guys did on the pick and rolls.
Could you talk about Mickael Pietrus' aggressiveness on offense? I know you've talked about, in the past, his threes and how sometimes he passes them up when he should be shooting them.
Well, the one thing I've really liked about M.P. the last couple of games, if you go back even to the Miami game here, he missed three in a row in the left corner, which is a great shot for him but he didn't hesitate on any of them. In the past, if M.P. had missed two, he would have hesitated. He had been in a little bit of a slump for a couple of games but he has shot good shots and hopefully he understands that if he continues to shoot good shots when he's open, he's going to shoot a good percentage from the three on the year because he's a very good shooter and so he's just got to understand three-point shooting is not going to something where you 2-5 every night to shoot 40%. You're going to 5-6, then you're going to go 0-5, something like that. That's the nature of long-range shooting and if he continues that, I have confidence that at the end of the year, he's going to be a guy that's shot it really well.
More after the jump (it's a long transcript; 'getcha popcorn ready').
I know that tonight you're shot wasn't falling but you did seem more aggressive attacking the basket, trying to get to the free-throw line. Could you talk about that?
Well, when my shot is not falling like you said tonight, you got to do something to get back into a rhythm, get into a flow of the game. The second half, when I came in the fourth quarter, my goal was to just get my hands on some balls and get some tips and rebound. When you're having a bad shooting night, you want to shoot yourself out of it, but at the same time, I want to do what's best for the team and keep the momentum and obviously win the game so I think at that point, we had some guys that were really hot and we were just focusing on getting all the boards and help them out.
I know that Brandon Bass played mostly at the five, a little bit at the four, but mostly at the five. How do you think his game complements to you when you're both on the floor at the same time?
I mean, Brandon is an incredibly talented player. I've said it from the beginning, he can do so many different things. He's a strong player, I think he really complements me. He's a lot like Dwight [Howard] in the sense that we can go to him down low in the post and he'll make good decisions. At the same time, we can spread the court while having him down low and a lot of guys aren't really going to guard him like Dwight so he's going to be able to get to the hoop a bit easier but yeah, he did a great job.
Do you think the dimension of Bass being able to shoot the mid-range jumper is a little bit different from what Howard brings at the five?
Yeah, I mean, there's not a lot of jump-shooting fives. Guys kind of lay off and don't really guard him up-tight when they're around the perimeter but guys have to really focus on guarding Brandon because he can shoot that. If they want to lay off, he can shoot and score every time so it adds a really good dimension to our team. I think, especially when we not might be in the right flow, he can kind of change it up. He just definitely changes the game in a good way.
You guys are going to be going on your first West Coast road trip, what's the focus - other than winning - for the team?
I mean, yeah, we just want to carry on from our last road trip. Keep getting wins, keep getting momentum, and obviously we play L.A. [Clippers] so that's going to be a good game. We really look forward to playing. Playing in the West Coast, in general, is a tough trip ... back-to-back days, just traveling can really wear you down, but we're really focused and I think we'll be ready to go.
Given that you're from the West Coast, is it nice to be able to go back?
Oh yeah, I mean, it's real nice to go back and see your family, see your old friends. In Golden State, Cal-Berkeley is 10 minutes away so it's real close and I can see my old buddies and stay in contact with them.
Could you talk a little bit about Brandon's performance tonight? He had 17 points in 18 minutes.
Brandon played great. Myself and Brandon have kind of been in a tough spot lately, we've kind of been in and out of the rotation, but coach [Stan Van Gundy] keeps preaching to us to stay ready. We're doing all the extra work we need on the side to stay ready, when our number is called, we got to perform and I thought Brandon did a great job tonight.
With the record where it is right now, does it feel nice to know that the hard work you guys have been putting in is starting to pay off?
Yeah, definitely, it's a sign of a good team when you're able to learn on the fly and still win but I think that's what we're doing. I think our chemistry is slowly coming along and we're still getting wins and I think that's very important.
Stan praised the pick and roll defense, saying it's the best it's ever been against the Knicks.
It was huge, it was huge. We needed that. They really hurt us last time in New York with the pick and roll defense and we knew that was the main part of their offense and we took that away. The points are going to have to come from other places so we made that happen.
Was it a matter of energy or what?
We just changed [the pick and roll defense] up. We had a different coverage last game and this game, we went back to our normal coverage and we really focused on it and shut it down.
Stan said that he liked your aggressiveness these past few games on offense. Do you feel like you're starting to come around, getting into a rhythm?
Yeah, I was trying to get a rhythm offensively for my team, trying to go to the basket, drive and dish for Dwight, and I tried to play all-in-one basketball. Having to focus so much on defense, I won't let it go, but I have to bring a little more offensively for my team, even though I'm not the man, I can still help my team accomplish what we're trying to accomplish.
I know Stan praised the pick and roll defense. What was the difference between Sunday and tonight?
Just trying to get better, we've been working hard these last couple of days working on the pick and roll and some nights it won't be there, so we have to learn from how good our defense was tonight and make sure when we go out West, we're going to do the same job.
You and Rashard [Lewis] really got it going in the third quarter, making threes after threes. Does it seem like the basket gets bigger when you're making shots?
No, no, no, probably from working hard but that's what we try to do, get better every day, and try to get better as a player. We had a chance to make shots tonight and that's what we need to do.
Stan praised the pick and roll defense. What was the difference tonight as opposed to Sunday against the Knicks?
We played our old pick and roll defense. We changed it up. When we played in New York, we tried something different and it didn't work. They're a great pick and roll team and tonight we really paid a lot of attention to their pick and rolls and tried to take them out of it and make them shoot long shots.
Do you feel like you guys are starting to achieve better balance offensively, playing the inside-out game with Dwight?
I mean, that's just how we got to play. That's the way our offense is designed, 4-out/1-in, and when we get it to him and he's dominating in the paint, then the defense has to collapse on him. Then when you collapse on him, you're leaving four perimeter guys on the wing, and all four of us can shoot the ball so as long we move the ball around and he's making a good pass out of the double-team, then I think we're a great offensive team.
Brandon played mostly at the five tonight, what difference does he bring at that position, other than the mid-range shooting that he brings?
He obviously plays strong down low, he's very athletic, and he can rebound the ball. Not only that, he can step out, face up on the [isolation], and shoot that elbow jumpshot from 15 to 17 feet and when we played David Lee at the five, they played a pretty small lineup, so it just depends on who you're playing against. I thought Stan did a great job of doing his rotations tonight.
When Brandon plays the four, do you guys run any 3-out/2-in sets?
A little bit of 3-out/2-in, but he still can spread the floor. Not to the three-point line, but to the elbow jumpshot or 17 feet out close to the three-point line, and that just lets us know, that even with him, that's Plan B and he can still step out to shoot the jumper.
With your mid-range shooting, do you think you cause mismatch problems at the five because centers don't normally do that?
Right, because when I was with Dallas [last year], we played at our best when I was at the five and Dirk [Nowitzki] was at the four because I used to spread out the floor and everybody was trying to get to me, Dirk, [Jason] Terry for threes, and things like that but I guess [it's] different nights.
Do you feel more comfortable playing the five as opposed to the four?
It don't matter what I play. It don't matter whether I play the four or the five, I just be trying to get on the floor.
If you want me to play the three, I'll play the three. *laughs*
It's whatever but I think fives, they don't want to run with somebody like me and be as active as me, kind of be a center, so I think some nights it'll be great for us.
Is Stan cognizant [of your strengths at the five]?
I don't think that he be thinking about ... well, tonight was a night where he probably thought it would be great for me to play [the five], by them going so small and having somebody around my height playing the five, things like that.
Do you feel like it's taken some time for you to develop a niche on this team?
Oh yeah, oh yeah, it always takes some time. I'm a person of repetition. Even when I was in school, me constantly doing things, that's why I shoot so many jumpshots. I'm not a person that can just sleep for a week and make shots so I got to keep on doing it and everything I do, for me to be great at it, I got to keep on doing it.
Defensively, what have you been trying to improve on in practice and what not?
See, I'm a great one-on-one defender but just the team, the system. We play defense different from the [New Orleans] Hornets and [the] Dallas [Mavericks], so things like that. Our defensive system, I got to improve on.
Is it the terminology or the rotations?
Rotations. We do some stuff that nobody, I don't even know nobody ... with the two teams I've been with, that do what we do. Coach [Stan Van Gundy] is very detailed and I think that's why he's as good of a coach as he is and that's why we're as good of a team as we are.
Do you feel comfortable now in the defensive system?
We all are trying to make progress on the defensive end. I think that's great for us. I think, come playoff time, we should be at our best and every day I'm trying to improve on something.
Stan praised the pick and roll defense tonight. What was it specifically that you guys were able to do?
Everybody did their jobs tonight. We were there with the pick and rolls early, we talked, we were active ... the bigs were active, me and Marcin [Gortat] and Brandon were active on the pick and rolls and we just really concentrated on that area tonight and it worked so our defense is slowly but surely picking up and hopefully we can continue to get better at it and everybody wants to get better and we'll be at the top.
What's going to be the biggest challenge on the West Coast road trip, aside from winning the games?
Biggest challenge? I don't know. We love playing on the road. I think playing on the road is the best time for a lot of guys to get a chance to just be with the team. Just focus on what you go to do so we're doing pretty good.
is road games usually a great barometer for separating the good teams from the elite or the average from the good?
You have to be able to win on the road, especially like I said, getting down into the playoffs, you play teams on the road and it's hectic. It's crazy and you have to be able to win in those types of environments and also protect home.