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A kinder, gentler Van Gundy? 11.20.09 at 8:20 pm ET
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Magic coach Stan Van Gundy vowed before Friday’s game with the Celtics that he would try to be less negative.

“I’m going to be be more constructive,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not Little Mary Sunshine, but I’m going to work on being less negative. Be more constructive.”

Van Gundy is one the league’s most direct coaches in his dealings with the media, and also one of the most sarcastic. Not surprisingly, that has rubbed some of his players the wrong way over the years. Van Gundy said he would try to work on it after a meeting with star center, Dwight Howard, but he did want to clear up what he said was a misconception about the nature of the sit-down.

“Dwight didn’t come to me about anything,” Van Gundy said. “I went to Dwight and said, ‘What’s going on?’ Why are we not playing with enthusiasm?”

Van Gundy went on to say that Howard mentioned a few things (expectations, injuries) before getting around to Van Gundy being too negative in his assessment of the team.

“It’s not as big a deal as it’s been reported,” Van Gundy said. “I thought it was done in a positive way.”

Van Gundy and Howard had a public disagreement after Game 2 of the Celtics-Magic series last season when Howard campaigned for more touches.

Howard said everything was copacetic between the team and the coach. “I just told him that we need to see more positive than negative.”

Asked for his reaction, Doc Rivers said, “His coaching style is just fine, honestly.” A few minutes before Rasheed Wallace came by and good-naturedly yelled that he and the group of reporters huddled around him were a fire hazard, which prompted Rivers to add, “On this team it’s the opposite. I go to Rasheed and say, ‘Can you be calmer?’”

Read More: Dwight Howard, Orlando, Stan Van Gundy,
A scout’s take on Orlando 05.04.09 at 1:32 pm ET
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Wondering what will work for the Celtics against the Magic and what won’t? We garnered the opinion of one scout who has seen both teams extensively to break-down what Orlando has to offer:

Rafer Alson
“He’s a really good three-point shooter so you you’re going to want to put the pressure on him because he’s not a great finisher when he drives. He will look to pass more than he looks to score when going to the hoop. I think (Rajon) Rondo can keep him under control. He isn’t Derrick Rose.”

Dwight Howard
“You have to limit his dunks. It sounds stupid, but you have to make him make offensive moves and score and not just give him dunks. I think you can attack him defensively because he is at his best when he is off the ball. That’s where he gets most of his blocks.”

Rashard Lewis
“He’s the key to the whole series. It’s going to be tough for Big Baby (Glen Davis) to guard him because he can stretch the floor. That’s where (Brian) Scalabrine comes in. He’s going to play a big role. You have to limit his three’s but he is also a tough match-up for the bigs, that’s why using (Kevin) Garnett on him was so valuable. I thought Philly did a good job on him with Thaddeus Young.”

Mickael Pietrus
“He’s a very good three-point shooter who can get into foul trouble. He could have trouble trying to guard (Paul) Pierce. He’s really been able to make that transition from starter in Golden State to a valuable guy off the bench who can post-up and drive.”

J.J. Redick
“A three-point shooter, that’s all he is. You can really attack him defensively. He’s terrible defensively.”

Marcin Gortat
“He comes in for Howard and supplies a lot of energy. He won’t hurt you with his shooting but he is good on the pick-and-roll, and gets garbage buckets. You just have to match his energy. He’s not a great shooter, and not a good post-up player, but he is a good rebounder. He’s one of the biggest reasons they beat Philly in that series’ last game.”

Anthony Johnson
“He’s a solid backup point guard who is a pretty good penetrator and can hit an open three. He isn’t, however, a very good defender.”

Courtney Lee
“Very good three-point shooter who will also take you off the dribble. He’s a really solid player. Bigger guards can post him up a bit.”

Hedo Turkoglu
“He’s just a very good player, and has done a good job with Pierce. Paul has some trouble guarding him because he has a very good first step and he’s a big guy who can shoot over you.”

KEY TO THE SERIES
“Two things: You have to limit the Magic’s three-point shooting, and limit the number of dunks by Howard. They aren’t going to move the ball like Chicago, but they will spread you out with guys outside and look for Howard inside.”

– ROB BRADFORD

Read More: Celtics, Orlando, Scout,
The puzzle changes shape 03.18.09 at 11:15 pm ET
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There are two ways to look at Doc Rivers‘ statement before the Celtics took the court against the Heat. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland,” Rivers told the press without being asked about whether they could catch the Cavaliers. “We have a chance to hold on to that second spot.” (Click here for a recap of the Miami game.)

The first is this. The coach is absolutely right. There are 13 games left in the regular season and the Celtics are down five in the loss column. It’s math.

Now that kind of unprompted candor, even from one of the more honest and realistic coaches in the NBA, is not generally expected. Someone who has been around competitive sports for as long as Rivers knows there’s always a chance, and to concede anything less is to admit to defeat on a certain level.

But admitting defeat is not in this team’s nature (and they have the championship banner to prove it) so clearly this was a different sort of message. After the game, which was as good a win as his team has had in almost two weeks, Rivers talked about a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s corny,” he said. “But we were talking about it today that the only way you can put a puzzle together is with the box. You have to have the picture. So we just don’t have all our pieces together right now. They’re kind of scattered but we’re going to have a chance to put them back together and we know that. And we know the picture and that’s what we want.”

The puzzle pieces are scattered throughout Eddie Lacerte’s training room. They have hyper-extended elbows, sprained ankles and strained knees. But the picture is clearer now after suffering losses to Milwaukee and Chicago and it involves getting the home-court advantage against Orlando in the second round. That’s the puzzle they will try to solve over the next 13 games: Get healthy and stay ahead of the Magic.

That’s a different picture than what was in place a few weeks ago when there was a realistic chance at catching the Cavaliers, but that was then and this is now. There were a lot of words spoken in the aftermath of their gritty win over the Heat without two of their stars and with only three able-bodied big men, but none of them were “Cleveland.”

“One, for us to get on the same page and two, to solidify that second spot,” was how Stephon Marbury put it. “Once everyone gets healthy I think this team will be totally different.”

“Either way, I still feel good about us winning a championship,” Kendrick Perkins said. “I don’t care if we play home or away.”

Say this for the Celtics, when the coach talks about something like this it’s not an accident and it’s not a sub-conscious slip of the tongue. The players were briefed about this subtle change in expectations and they are on board.

“That’s the one great thing about this team,” Paul Pierce said. “We’ve never been down. We never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work, regardless of who’s out there.”

To that end, they milked 41 minutes out of Big Baby Davis, who has been out the last four games with an ankle injury. They had three (relatively) healthy big men and when Davis and Mikki Moore fouled out, they turned to rookie Bill Walker in the final minute of an overtime game.

It was, as they say, a good win. A win that clinched them the Atlantic Division, not that any of them cared because that’s not part of the puzzle they’re trying to solve.

“(The division) doesn’t really mean anything to the Boston Celtics,” Pierce said. “They don’t put that banner up. Maybe in other arenas they put that banner up, but here, it doesn’t really mean a thing.”

Getting healthy matters. Staying ahead of Orlando matters. That was the message the coach delivered Wednesday night and it was heard, and well-received by his team.

Read More: Celtics, Orlando, Paul Pierce,
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