Van Gundy can flat-out coach

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

In Stan Van Gundy's world, no lead is too large and no opponent ever is taken for granted.

No matter how good his Orlando Magic squad is playing and no matter how dominant his star player, Dwight Howard, is performing, Van Gundy constantly is pushing and prodding for more.

During yesterday's rout of the reeling Raptors, Van Gundy called a timeout when the home side went on a 6-0 run during the third quarter, a period in which Orlando outscore the Raptors 34-18.

Even with Jameer Nelson flirting with his first-career triple-double, Van Gundy gave his starting point guard an earful during a stoppage in play.

People like to mock Van Gundy, from the way he looks to the way he dresses, but the guy can flat-out coach. In his world, substance supersedes style, as it should.

He gives the appearance of someone who is never satisfied, but appearances often are misleading.

With Orlando's convincing 113-90 win yesterday, Van Gundy earned his 200th career victory, during an NBA coaching tenure that began with the Miami Heat in 2003.

Pat Riley received all the glory after guiding the Heat to its 2006 NBA championship, but people fail to realize that it was Van Gundy who gave the Miami franchise its base of good habits.

As one might expect, the self-effacing Van Gundy wasn't even aware of his career milestone.

"What it really means is that I have had the good fortune to coach outstanding players in my four-plus years in the league,'' Van Gundy said. "That's what it really means ... Just lucky enough to coach good guys."

Van Gundy isn't just a good coach. He's a great coach, someone who should win, or at least be among the leading candidates for coach-of-the-year honours at season's end.

As long as Van Gundy continues to demand the most from his players, the Magic will continue to be competitive with Boston and Cleveland in the East.

For those who aren't familiar with his story in the land of Disney, the Magic selected Van Gundy two years ago when Billy Donovan backed away at the very last minute after agreeing to leave the college ranks for the pro game.

Under no circumstance would Orlando be knocking on a championship door had Donovan taken the job.

With Van Gundy now firmly in control, the Magic must be taken as a serious post-season threat.

When Shaq and Penny were the faces of the franchise, the Magic appeared in the 1995 championship final, only to be swept by Houston. Dwight Howard has since replaced O'Neal, while Nelson runs the show.

Unlike the strained relationship that was O'Neal and Hardaway, there is no such ill will or petty jealousies between Howard and Nelson.

Van Gundy keeps each player grounded, though he did provide a glowing synopsis of each in the wake of Orlando's NBA-leading 18th road win.

During Van Gundy's time at the helm, Orlando is 45-20 on the road.

In the NBA, the formula among good teams is to go .500 on the road.

With home games against Dallas, the L.A. Clippers, New Jersey and Denver and one road game in Indianapolis before the all-star break, the Magic is poised to have 40 wins by the time the league reconvenes following its mid-season showcase.

The Raptors might be fortunate to have 20 wins -- the gap between the two is that severe.

And to think the teams met in last season's opening round of the playoffs.

It could be argued that Orlando could use a backup to Nelson and a bigger presence in the frontcourt to spell Howard.

With Howard drawing so much attention in the post, it's little wonder why the Magic heave so many three-balls.

When Howard is imposing his will and when Orlando's spot-up shooters are spot on, its' tough to beat the Magic.

But it's Van Gundy who gives the team its added edge and advantage.

Teams adjust and the Magic adjusted from its earlier visit to the ACC, a 108-102 Raptors win, by essentially taking away Chris Bosh's dribble and turning him into a jump shooter.

Yesterday, Bosh went 4-of-11 from the field and had as many turnovers as field goals. He made four trips to the line. Back on Jan. 4, he attempted 14 three throws.

Van Gundy said he was "pretty happy'' following the win, which is pretty good for a guy who is loath to offer such praise.

One gets the impression that Van Gundy won't be completely happy until Orlando wins a title.

The Magic is well on its way.


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