Magic show improvement despite loss to Mavs

Published Dec. 21, 2010 10:39 p.m. EST

By SAM GARDNER Magic Writer
December 21, 2010

ORLANDO - It is not very often that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy praises a losing effort in his postgame press conference, but the way he was talking after Orlando's 105-99 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, you would have thought his team had won. Maybe in a way, it did.

"I thought we did some things very well tonight," an unusually positive Van Gundy said. "I thought our ball movement was a lot better. I don't think we had much trouble getting good shots. I thought we attacked their zone tonight when they went into zone. I thought we played well out of pick and rolls."

Orlando, in its second game since two major trades, hung around with arguably the NBA's hottest team and gave itself a chance to win when victory seemed out of the question. When you're starting over midseason with a new group of players, that's got to count for something.

"I thought that we tried hard most of the time defensively," Van Gundy continued. "I liked the way that we fought in the fourth quarter. We knocked down (double-digit deficits) and gave ourselves a chance to get back in the game. We didn't turn the ball over a lot, and we out-rebounded them. I thought there were a lot of positives tonight to build on, so that's the good part."

The bad part? The loss was the eighth in nine games for a 16-12 Orlando team now that finds itself tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I'm more frustrated than any of (the Magic players)," Van Gundy said. "We've lost eight of nine and four in a row, but this is a whole new situation. I mean, it's a whole new team, and the last three weeks here have been not a lot of things working in our favor to be quite honest."

Sure, the timing for the trades that brought four new players to Orlando wasn't exactly optimal -- then again, when is a good time for a roster overhaul -- but it's good to see that Van Gundy's ready to roll with the punches.

Winning is always the goal, but for now, the most important thing for the Magic is learning the system, building chemistry and improving.

"We've got to continue to play with as much energy as we did tonight, play as hard as we did tonight and try to get better every day," Van Gundy said. "That's really my only goal right now, and I don't think anybody who's watched both games could say we didn't get better from last night to tonight. I thought we were a lot better."

Van Gundy's optimism seems to be carrying over to his players, as well.

"We are a team that can win a championship," center Dwight Howard said. "We believe that, we just want everybody to be patient. We understand that right now we're not going to be the best team in the NBA, but we're working toward that."

Orlando's improvement from Game 1 post-trade to Game 2 was remarkable. While the new players still struggled to find their shots -- Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson combined to shoot 7 of 30 -- there was certainly more cohesiveness and a clearer understanding of the system, and at this point, that's all you can ask.

"The second day of training camp is the best that it is; it's not their second regular-season game together," Van Gundy said. "They still haven't practiced together . . . People are trying to compare it to teams that make moves in the offseason and their early-season struggles. That's b.s. Those teams are together all through training camp. They don't play a game for a month. There's no comparison to what these guys are going through right here."

Van Gundy's not usually one for cutting slack, but he seems willing to accept the idea of taking a step back in December so that his team can grow and get to where he wants it to come May and June.

"As long as they play hard and everything, I'll certainly give them a little bit of a break, and hopefully our fans will, too," he said. "They're trying very hard. Nobody can fault their effort tonight. I know nobody wants to hear it, but it's going to take some time. I'm not talking like two days, either. It's going to take some time. Training camp's a month. Everybody else in this league's been together since Oct. 1. We're just starting."

CHEST PAINS: At one point in the game, after a Turkoglu three-pointer gave the Magic a 33-29 lead, Van Gundy was seen chest-bumping Howard in front of the Orlando bench.

The players have taken notice of Van Gundy's change in demeanor, and that's certainly a good thing.

"Coach's energy is a little bit different; his vibe is different," Howard said. "He's never chest bumped in a game, and he did that tonight . . . Me and Stan did the chest bump. It was like a chest-belly -- my belly and his chest -- but it worked."

A-HA MOMENT: After struggling for much of his first two games in a Magic uniform, Richardson caught fire late in the game, knocking down two straight three-pointers during a crucial stretch late in the fourth quarter. Arenas saw that as Richardson's a-ha moment, and feels that it's only a matter of time before he has his.

"J-Rich finally started hitting shots at the end, so I know he was like, 'Finally,' " Arenas said. "I'm going to get my, 'Finally,' moment, but we're just trying to play the right way, play with each other. It's not about now; it's about four months from now."

Van Gundy's not worried about his new guys' struggling shots.

"I don't know if it's being in a new situation, or putting too much pressure on themselves," he said. "All three of them are struggling to shoot the ball . . . History tells me that eventually, these guys will shoot the ball well."

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