BOSTON -- Orlando’s Dwight Howard made an extra effort last season to get rid of a key roadblock in his relationship with Stan Van Gundy. He taught his coach how to text.
“He’s actually pretty good at it,” Howard said from the visitors’ locker room at TD Garden before Friday night’s game. “He knows all the little LOLs and everything.”
Van Gundy does not, however, text smiley faces.
“I don’t get no smiley faces,” Howard said, “but I’ll get the LOL, ‘Talk to you later,’ all that stuff.”
A smiley face would be out of character for Van Gundy, a coach whose perceived negativity made headlines earlier this week. The coach and his star player met privately to discuss the way the coach had been dwelling more on the failures of his 9-3 team than on its successes.
“I just told him I felt like, sometimes, as a coach, we need to see a little more positive than negative,” Howard said. “He felt that I was right.”
Contrary to perception, Van Gundy said, it wasn’t Howard who initiated the conversation. It was Van Gundy who went to Howard after Orlando beat Charlotte on Monday to have a chat, coach to star player, about how best to get the Magic to play with more energy.
Howard first brought up a couple of other issues -- the burden of high expectations, for example, and the injuries that have come fast and furious for the Magic since the season began. But the persistent negativity coming from the bench was the primary issue.
“That was probably the main part,” Howard said. “We just talked about how to get our team to the next level and what he needed out of me and what he expected out of me and the rest of my teammates. He said he’s going to do a better job of making sure that he’s more upbeat and positive, and he wants me to make sure my teammates are coming out with energy and playing as hard as we did in the preseason or last season.”
Van Gundy even ridiculed himself a bit in his pregame session with the media on Friday.
“Making a blanket statement -- ‘We’re playing like crap’ -- what do you do with that statement?” Van Gundy said. “That doesn’t help you do anything. What you need to do is, ‘Dammit, guys, we’re not getting back. We need to get back, all the way back, stop the ball and get matched up. We need to put more effort into that.’ That’s constructive. That’s still intense. That’s still correcting.
“I’m not going to pat guys on the back and say, ‘Don’t worry. If you don’t want to get back tonight, it’s no big deal. If you don’t want to rotate defensively, look, as long as you’re happy, we’re good with that.’ That’s not me. I don’t want that to be me. To be quite honest, Dwight and I talked about this, and he doesn’t want that to be me.”
Getting back, of course, becomes more difficult against Celtics speedster Rajon Rondo, one of the fastest end-to-end players in the league. Rondo had five double-doubles in the seven games of the Eastern Conference semifinals a season ago, including 21 points and 14 rebounds in the Celtics’ win in Game 4.
“I don’t know that there’s anybody in the league faster,” Van Gundy said. “He and Derrick Rose (are) pretty damn quick, and we saw those two matched up in the playoffs last year. It’s tough keeping him out of the paint with his speed -- and, defensively, he can disrupt you with that quickness, too.”
At the other end, point guard Jameer Nelson will miss up to six weeks with a torn meniscus in his knee. Nelson was averaging 13.5 points per game and a team-best 5.5 assists per game when he went down. Most importantly, though, he was a guy who could get into the paint and relieve a little pressure on the Magic’s 3-point shooters.
“We lose one of our guys who really attacks the basket, and we don’t have that many of those guys,” Van Gundy said. “Really, it’s he and Vince (Carter) who are really the guys who attack the basket. When Jameer is out, we’re really different in that sense because we don’t get as much penetration into the paint and don’t put as much pressure on the defense -- plus the fact that he’s a 40-percent 3-point shooter.”