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Howard Questions Van Gundy's Strategy

May 13, 2009 – 7:30 AM
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Brett Pollakoff

Brett Pollakoff %BloggerTitle%

Cherry Picking recaps the previous day's NBA playoff action.

Through five games of their second round playoff series with the Celtics, the Orlando Magic have appeared to be the better team. They've proven to be more athletic, deeper, and consistently better shooters all around. But thanks to continued clutch play from the defending champions, and because of a lack of focus or execution down the stretch in these tight games, being "better" might turn out to be not good enough to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Magic blew a 14-point lead with under nine minutes remaining in their Game 5 loss in Boston, and for the first time in his career, Dwight Howard came right out and questioned how his coach, Stan Van Gundy, is going about doing his job.
Doing Lines: Starbury Appears | Watching Film: Kobe Beats the Buzzer

"The coaches have to recognize what's working on the floor. Stick to it. Even if it's half your starters on the floor. Not just the guys you have put the most trust in. You have to have trust in everybody," Howard said.

"We moved the ball, we ran, got easy shots, and our coach has to recognize when he was a certain group out there and they are getting the job done and we have to leave those guys on the floor. We are going to make mistakes, but I think you have to go with what works."

These statements aren't all that inflammatory by themselves, and some frustration is to be expected after losing a critical game, in a winnable series, in the way that the Magic lost Game 5. But when you hear Howard start to demand more touches, and hint that his coach needs to be the one to figure out how to do so, well, that's when things start to get a bit more serious.

"I think I'm capable of scoring in the post," Howard said. "I don't want to say it's all about offense. But when you have a dominant player, let him be dominant."

"I don't think you are going to win a lot of games when your post player only gets 10 shots."

"It's tough to get yourself going and get a lot of shots without a lot of touches. We have to do a better job with that."

If this sounds familiar, it's because it's not the first time a center for the Magic who calls himself Superman has gone to the media to ask for more touches.

Shaquille O'Neal is famous for saying the exact same things at various times throughout his career, and obviously he's been more vocal about it over the years after one of his teams has suffered a loss. O'Neal also has a history of sniping at teammates and coaches -- past and present -- and creating feuds or rifts where they otherwise wouldn't exist.

And while we're on the subject of Shaq, is there a chance he was spot-on with his pointed comments about Van Gundy's lack of ability to coach in the playoffs? Here's a reminder of what he said after his former coach accused him of flopping during a game earlier this season:

"I know for a fact he's a master of panic and when it gets time for his team to go into the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic. I've been there before. I've played for him."

O'Neal's comments seem especially poignant after the Magic blew a late double digit lead on Tuesday.

Now of course, Howard going to the press to question his coach's strategies and complain about touches isn't the proper way to handle things. But there's no way the Magic organization is going to stand by and watch another young, dominant big man become so unhappy with his coach or his situation that he ends up demanding a trade or leaving via free agency.

It's possible that Howard's comments were driven by the immediate frustration of the loss, and nothing more. This may be an isolated incident. But if it's not, and we hear Howard continue to criticize his coach through the media, you can be assured that Van Gundy will be the one who ends up leaving. And it will happen long before it gets to the point where the franchise player is even considering it.

Doing Lines

Stephon Marbury was finally the factor that the Celtics hoped he'd be, and his emergence couldn't have come at a more critical time for his team. Marbury scored all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, and kept Boston afloat long enough for the starters to come back in with under five minutes remaining to make their improbable comeback.

Dwight Howard scored 12 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but only took 10 shots in 37 minutes. He hit on 50 percent of his attempts, but his three teammates that each took more shots -- Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Rafer Alston -- combined to go 21-for-39, or almost 54 percent. Maybe Howard didn't have anything to complain about after all.

In the Lakers' blowout of the Rockets, Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks came crashing down to earth after their otherworldly performances on Sunday. After combining for 57 points in Game 4, the two managed just 19 total in Game 5. The difference in their combined output was 38 points, and the Rockets lost by 40.

Watching Film

So many Lakers highlights, so little time. Let's just go with this extremely tough catch-and-shoot fadeaway from Kobe Bryant, shall we? (I know, Rockets fans. If that was Shane Battier on Bryant instead of Ron Artest, the shot wouldn't have gone in, right? Please.)
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