Denton's Notebook: February 3, 2011

By John Denton
February 3, 2011

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat were adversaries most of the offseason, lobbing verbal grenades from Central Florida to South Florida and back, but the players from both sides insist there isn’t much of a rivalry on the court between the two sides.

But Magic superstar center Dwight Howard did say that while there’s no added animosity toward the Heat, he does sense and air of added intensity from head coach Stan Van Gundy anytime that Orlando and Miami square off. Van Gundy was a long-time assistant coach and then head coach of the Heat before leaving coaching in 2005.

``It seems like Stan has something against them for some odd reason,’’ Howard said with a laugh. ``I don’t know why and I don’t get into it, but Stan is very amped up every time we play them. Every time we play them we have a meeting before practice. He’s ready to go.’’

As for the rivalry with the Heat, Howard said that he and his Magic mates consider the Boston Celtics to be more of an adversary. The Magic and Celtics have in the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past two years with Orlando winning in 2009 and Boston emerging in 2010.

``I think we have more of a rivalry with Boston, so we don’t really look at Miami as a rival. They are a team that we have to beat and they talk a lot of trash and we talk trash some time,’’ Howard said. ``We go back and forth with the Celtics because they are always trying to get into our heads.’’

Miami guard Dwyane Wade was asked about the rivalry and had to ask whether or not the Magic and Heat had ever played before in the playoffs. (They faced off in 1997 with the Heat surviving in seven games). As Wade was discussing the topic, LeBron James piped in from a few feet away, saying: ``It’s not a rivalry.’’

``I don’t think it’s a rivalry. If I had to pinpoint one for us I’d say it’s the Knicks,’’ Wade said. ``Rivalries are born there in the playoffs. We are the two Florida teams and it’s a great matchup, but it’s not a rivalry yet. You have to be in a few playoff series, win some and lose some and maybe have a scuffle here and there. Getting a couple of techs, getting a couple of guys thrown out, that’s when you get a rivalry. When you play guys in the playoffs, that’s when you get a rivalry and maybe this year will be the start of something.’’

RASHARD REMEMBERED: With the Magic leaving late Thursday night for Friday’s game in Washington, D.C., many of Orlando’s players and coaches have already started thinking about seeing former teammate Rashard Lewis for the first time since Dec. 18.

Lewis, who spent the past 3 ½ years in Orlando after signing a six-year, $118 million free agent contract with the Magic, was traded to Washington in February for Gilbert Arenas.

Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick said recently that he was walking through his Winter Park neighborhood and he saw moving vans at Lewis’ house and it made him think about how much he missed his former teammate. And Van Gundy said not enough credit has been given to Lewis for helping the Magic become one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams the past four years.

``You can look at where the franchise was and where it got to and you can cite a number of factors – Dwight is the key player and (Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkolgu and Howard) were here before — but being objective, the biggest reason for the turnaround was Rashard,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Going from 40 wins and getting swept the year before he came (2006-07) to 52 wins and a playoff series win (in 2007-08) to 59 wins and the Finals (2008-09), the biggest difference was Rashard Lewis coming here. He changed everything. He changed everything and changed the style of play. He was, to me, the guy who made the biggest impact difference.’’

And Van Gundy didn’t stop there, adding: ``Everybody loved coaching him and everybody loved playing with him. He was extremely professional and willing to sacrifice any and all personal goals for the team. That’s truly the only thing he thought about. And he’s a guy that I will always have a great respect for and appreciation for. And I’ll always going with the knowledge that he’s the key guy in turning this whole thing around here. I think there are a lot of people who recognize that.’’

FOR STARTERS: With Orlando without power forward Brandon Bass likely for the next two weeks because of a severely sprained ankle, Van Gundy has had to come up with a new rotation for the Magic’s already thin frontline.

Van Gundy said that he considered giving second-year pro Earl Clark his first start in a Magic uniform just to make sure that Ryan Anderson didn’t get into early foul trouble and so that the Magic’s top reserve didn’t lose his rhythm off the bench.

However, that plan changed when Clark missed Wednesday’s practice because of a high fever and a sore throat. Van Gundy instead went with Anderson because of his experience. And right on cue Thursday night Anderson picked up two fouls in the game’s first 2 minutes.

Clark, who was acquired in the Orlando-Phoenix trade in December, understands that the next two weeks he will likely get extended minutes and it’s a good chance to make an impression on the Magic coaching staff and brass. He entered Thursday averaging 3.2 points in 10 games with Orlando.

``I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and I just want to come out and play hard and not do too much and play to my strengths,’’ Clark said. ``It’s all about opportunity and when it comes you’ve got to do well and attack. That’s what I want to do with this stretch coming up.’’

ETC: Leilon Willingham, a four-star high school linebacker recruit from Denver, announced his intentions to play football at UCF on Thursday with a Magic flair. Willingham pulled out a blue Magic hat from under the table and said, ``I’m taking my talents to Orlando to play for UCF.’’ … Van Gundy said win or lose that there couldn’t be much taken from Thursday’s game against the Heat because of the injury-riddled state of the Magic. Getting Bass back and Miami getting Udonis Hasley back, Van Gundy said, would dramatically impact both teams. Said Van Gundy: ``This isn’t hopefully the group that we’ll have in the playoffs.’’ … Howard and Wade, who are close friends from the sponsorships with Gatorade and T-Mobile, often engage in some playful trash talk during games. Said Howard: ``With me and Wade, we’re just messing with one another. He’s blocked my shot like three times in his career and it’s like the best moment of his life – at least that’s what he acts like. I think all guards like to block big guys’ shots. When he does it, he’s always talking trash to me. That’s cool and I don’t see any harm in it because we’re just having fun.’’ … Wade was very complimentary of the moves that the Magic made in December, acquiring Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Turkoglu and Clark. Said Wade: ``I thought they did a good job because they brought in some guys who can help them with what they want to do and that’s be dynamic on the offensive end. They brought in J-Rich, one of the best two guards in the league and Turk, who never should have left. They’re a very good team. They’re going to have some ups and downs until they learn each other, but they are going to run off a few wins real soon. We understand that because we’re a new team, too.’’ … Jason Williams, who was waived last week by the Magic and signed Wednesday with the Memphis Grizzlies, attended Thursday’s game. He’s played with both the Magic and Heat in his career.

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