Denton's Notebook: December 26, 2011

By John Denton
December 26, 2011

ORLANDO – Usually a coach who works primarily on defense, Stan Van Gundy said his Orlando Magic will spend the two days before Thursday’s game against New Jersey working on improving their offensive ball movement after a disappointing opener.

Van Gundy said the most disappointing aspect of the Magic’s 97-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night was Orlando’s unwillingness to swing the basketball and show patience offensively. Too often, Van Gundy said his team had one-pass-and-shoot possessions, and to make matters worse the team didn’t do a good job of setting screens to free up shooters.

Van Gundy said he expected better offensive chemistry from a team where most of the core players are returning from last season. The root of the problem could have been the truncated training camp, but Van Gundy is more concerned now about finding answers instead of making excuses.

``I was really unhappy with our ball movement,’’ Van Gundy said. ``The way we want to play is predicated on guys making quick decisions with the ball. You get it and shoot it, that’s fine. If not drive it and if you don’t have anything, pass it and let the next guy have a chance. We had too many times where guys were holding the ball, waiting and waiting and guys pounding the ball. We had guys taking seven, eight, nine, 10 dribbles on some possessions and that’s not the way we need to play.’’

Prior to hosting New Jersey on Thursday, Van Gundy said he’ll search for ways to get the Magic to play with more energy and more committed defensively. And Van Gundy said ball movement and player movement are of the utmost importance because the Magic don’t have a player with tremendous one-on-one skills able to break foes down.

``The has to move and we have to get five guys playing together,’’ he said. ``It wasn’t that the guys were being selfish because everybody wanted to make the right play, but they were holding the ball instead of moving the ball and moving the defense.’’

BACK ON THE SIDELINES: After two years of working with TNT as a game analyst, Kevin McHale was back on the sidelines Monday night as the first-year head coach of the Houston Rockets.

McHale, a Hall of Fame player with the Boston Celtics, first worked as the General Manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves after his playing career was complete. He was the Timberwolves’ interim head coach for 31 games in 2004-05 and for 63 games during the 2008-09 season going a combined 39-55 over the two seasons.

McHale said the lure of being close to the game always appealed to him. Even while sitting courtside as a television analyst, McHale said he longed to be back coaching.

``The fun thing about announcing is you don’t care who wins. The bad thing about announcing is you don’t care who wins,’’ McHale said, flashing some of the wit that made his a success as an announcer. ``You like having a dog in the fight, you like the feeling I have right now, the little anticipation. You get the butterflies while coaching and you don't get that when you’re doing TV.’’

NO LINGERING EFFECTS OF THE LOCKOUT: The regular season tipped off Monday night in Orlando two months later than usual because of the five-month lockout between the players and owners.

But the fans seem to have forgiven the league for the second work stoppage in league history. The Magic sold out the Amway Center for the lone preseason game against the Miami Heat and had their 121st consecutive sellout of a regular season or playoff game on Monday against the Houston Rockets.

Van Gundy said he was most proud that the NBA was back because of the positive effects that Magic games have on businesses around the Amway Center and for the workers at the arena.

``You walk in the arena and see the people getting the arena ready for the game and those are the people that you feel really good for, people who were negatively impacted by us not having games,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Those are the people you feel good for, people who can put some money in their pockets again in this rough (economy) we’re going through.’’

ETC: The Magic added a new twist to the regular-season opening introductions by having players come down onto the court from the stands. Players slapped high fives and posed for pictures with fans prior to running onto the court to loud ovations. … Magic superstar center Dwight Howard, who was cheered by the crowd despite his trade request, addressed the crowd before the game and thanked the fans for their patience during the lockout. Said Howard: ``Thank you for being the best fans in the NBA. We’re gonna have a great season. Let’s go, baby.’’ … Magic rookie Justin Harper made his NBA debut in the second quarter after Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis picked up his third foul in the first half. The Magic’s other power forward, Ryan Anderson, had two fouls. … The Magic host the Nets and all-star point guard Deron Williams on Thursday at the Amway Center. The Nets are one of the teams interested in trading for Howard, but they recently lost potential trade chip Brook Lopez to a stress fracture in his foot. He is expected to miss at least two months of the season.

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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