Clifford Continues to Get Coaching Advice From Stan Van Gundy

by John Denton

TORONTO – Coaches often say that their individual styles of running a team are shaped largely by an amalgamation of the coaches that they either played for or worked for previously.

In the case of Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford, that is certainly true – especially as it relates to Stan Van Gundy.

Clifford was an assistant coach under Van Gundy in Orlando from 2007-12 and the two of them helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Previously, Clifford had been family friends with Jeff and Stan Van Gundy as fellow high school and small-college coaches in the Northeast. Also, Clifford got his start in the NBA while working for Jeff Van Gundy with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.

With Stan Van Gundy living in Orlando once again, Clifford and his former boss talk often and the two had dinner together recently. Naturally, the dinner conversation turned to the job that Clifford is doing with this year’s Magic team. The very opinionated Van Gundy had thoughts about the team and Clifford was eager to listen. He holds Van Gundy in the highest of regards, calling him ``a genius’’ and he said many of Van Gundy’s principles are a part of the way he runs his teams.

``I just had dinner with him (Thursday) night and I was writing on a napkin about 2½ minutes in when he said, `This is what I see,’’’ Clifford recalled. ``So, I said, `Well, I had better write this down.’ When you’re not that smart and you’re talking to bright people, you better write that stuff down. That’s what I learned a long time ago and I don’t share it because I don’t spell that well.’’

One key tactic from Van Gundy that Clifford uses is the consistent approach that coaches should treat every game with the same importance.

``It’s the Van Gundy way. Stan used to say, and we do this all the time, `We prepare for every game like it’s a playoff game.’ We go over 10 plays every game, while a lot of teams wait until the playoffs,’’ Clifford said. ``Sometimes people want to say, `It’s a big game,’ but you prepare to play important games in September. You can’t come back (mid-season) and say, `We have to play a great game.’ (Former NBA coach) Larry Brown used to say that Game 1 counts the same as Game 82 and I believe that. That’s the approach we’ve had all the way through.’’

BRISCOE OUT WITH CONCUSSION: Isaiah Briscoe, one of Orlando’s most improved players since the start of the season, missed Sunday’s game because of a concussion he suffered on Friday in the Magic’s loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Briscoe, an NBA rookie who played last season in Estonia, was placed into the NBA’s concussion protocol, meaning he will have to pass a series of progressively vigorous tests before being allowed to play again.

Briscoe apparently suffered the concussion early in the second quarter after taking a charge from Bulls’ forward Otto Porter Jr. Briscoe stayed in the game another 5 ½ minutes in the second quarter and he played another 9 minutes, 51 seconds in the second half. He finished with 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in nearly 21 minutes.

Briscoe’s symptoms from the concussion didn’t start until well after Friday’s game and Clifford said he didn’t find out until about three hours prior to tipoff on Sunday. Jerian Grant, the top option behind starter D.J. Augustin early in the season before being passed by Briscoe, returned to the reserve point guard role on Sunday.

``The last time (Briscoe) was out (most of four games from Jan. 23-29 with an ankle sprain) Jerian did a good job,’’ Clifford said. ``He prepares to play well, and I think that he will play well tonight.’’

Briscoe sprained his left ankle a minute into his time on the floor on Jan. 23. The Magic lost that game and the next three that he didn’t play. In those four games, Grant played 65 minutes and compiled 19 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists while making six of 17 shots.

Briscoe, 22, has made major strides over the past month and he came into Sunday averaging 4.6 points, 4.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds in his previous nine games. In 35 games, he’s tied for ninth among all NBA rookies in assists per game (2.2).

``He’s improved tremendously and obviously he’s been a big part of our improvement and the way we’ve played here lately – both ends of the court (for Briscoe),’’ Clifford said.

LEONARD RESTED: When the Toronto Raptors rested superstar forward Kawhi Leonard on Sunday, it potentially put the Magic in a position to gain a major advantage.

Leonard, who missed most of last season with a quad injury while playing for the San Antonio Spurs, has been rested and treated with special care this season by the Raptors. Sunday was the 11th time that he missed a game this season because of what the team is calling ``load management.’’ In all, it was the 17th game he’s missed this season, but the Raptors still came into Sunday at 13-3 when he’s out.

``I think the intensity of the last (game versus San Antonio on Friday) and the intensity of possibly the next one (on Tuesday against Boston),’’ Toronto coach Nick Nurse on the reason for sitting Leonard out. ``We feel we’re in a really good place right now with him and we just want to make sure we stay there.’’

Leonard, an all-star starter last week, led all Eastern Conference players in scoring in January at 30.2 points. For the season, he ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring (26.9 ppg.) and fifth in steals (1.86) while shooting well from the floor (48.8 percent) and 3-point range (35.6 percent). Those numbers have taken a spill in two games against the defense of Magic forward Aaron Gordon. In his two games versus the Magic, Leonard has averaged just 19.5 points while shooting just 42.9 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3-point range.

UP NEXT: After working the past five days with three practices and two games, the Magic will get an off day of rest on Monday. The team was scheduled to fly to New York following Sunday’s day game in Toronto.

The Magic will face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Orlando is 2-0 against the Knicks this season, including a 115-89 victory on Nov. 11 behind 22 points and five 3-pointers from Terrence Ross. It was the biggest margin of victory at Madison Square Garden in the 30-year history of the franchise.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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