Shaq ready for Howard, Magic
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal worked on his kickboxing with Cavaliers teammate Anderson Varejao as the two traded playful jabs following practice.
Once talk turned to Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy and Magic superstar Dwight Howard, though, O'Neal put the gloves away. While playing for Phoenix last season, O'Neal was critical of both, mocking Howard's use of the nickname "Superman" while calling Van Gundy "a master of panic."
O'Neal wasn't going to get drawn back into the verbal spats. Cleveland travels to Orlando on Wednesday in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals, which the Magic won in six games.
"My only concern is winning championships. I'm not worried about all that other stuff," O'Neal said on Monday. "I've been there, done that. My only concern is how many championships I can win."
Cleveland acquired O'Neal over the summer in part to deal with Howard, who punished the Cavaliers in the playoffs. O'Neal said at his introductory press conference the Cavaliers would no longer have to double team Howard, something he reiterated on Monday. Coach Mike Brown isn't so sure.
"That's Shaq's idea of the game plan," Brown said.
O'Neal credits himself as being the original Superman upon entering the league in 1992 and blasted Howard's use of the nickname last year.
"I can't be impressed by something I invented," O'Neal said at the time. "I mean, you look at what he is doing, I've been there and done that. Every street he is driving down in Orlando, I have been on that street. Every nightclub, every restaurant -- I have been there and done that."
O'Neal was more complimentary on Monday when he called Howard a pretty good player.
"He's young, agile and active," O'Neal said, "but nothing I haven't seen before."
The two faced off only once last season, when O'Neal was still with the Suns, and played nearly even. O'Neal scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 35 minutes, while Howard scored 21 points and had eight rebounds in 30 minutes during Orlando's 111-99 victory in March.
The Cavaliers and Magic are still considered two of the best teams in the East, although both have undergone dramatic changes since the conference finals. Cleveland is 4-3 while learning to play with three new starters -- O'Neal, Anthony Parker and J.J. Hickson.
Orlando is 5-2 entering its game Tuesday in Charlotte. The Magic acquired Vince Carter from the Nets after letting Hedo Turkoglu sign with Toronto as a free agent.
Carter, hobbled by an ankle injury, did not play in Orlando's 28-point loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday. Neither did Rashard Lewis, who is in the midst of a league-mandated 10-game suspension.
"They're a very good, well-coached team that presented problems for us (last year)," Brown said. "Hopefully it will be different this year."
Last season, O'Neal blasted Van Gundy after the Magic coach was critical of O'Neal, alleging he flopped to draw a foul call in the Suns' loss to the Magic. O'Neal played for Van Gundy in Miami.
"I know for a fact that he's a master of panic, and when it gets time for his team to go in the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic," O'Neal said in March. "I've been there before, I've played for him."
O'Neal said Monday he was simply defending himself.
"It's not my style to call people out," he said. "But if people call me out, I will defend myself. You smack me, I'll punch you every time. I don't care who it is."