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In Stan We Trust

The Orlando Magic have been getting their heads handed to them on the floor.  Friday night, they got their hearts handed to them off the floor, by none other than their very own coach.  And he couldn't have done a better job of it.

After the Jazz clocked the Magic in Orlando, 113-94, Stan Van Gundy shared some frustrated thoughts regarding his team's performance as of late.  A few excerpts, courtesy of Brian Schmitz's piece in the Orlando Sentinel:

"We had a team-wide effort of guys getting their butts kicked.

It's a soft team . . . We're absolutely frightened of contact . . . We don't play hard enough. We're not tough enough and this will not stop. And until we change the way we play and play harder, it will not stop.

A lot of guys are OK with that as long as they get their numbers.

I think every film clip we show them [today] they'll have an excuse for."

Indeed, Van Gundy's tirade likely constitutes a first-class offense of throwing one's players under the bus.  But it was a move that had to be made, and for the this particular team, it may be the best move to set the right tone for the long term.

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Since the Magic tore out of the gate to a 16-4 start, they have won just two of their last eight games.  Many of the losses have been to presumably lesser teams -- Indiana, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Memphis -- and a few (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Utah) haven't been close.  This Magic team spent the first month of the season working toward proving that it could hang with anyone.  Over the last two weeks, they have suddenly become completely inept on the court.  Simply put, they were in dire need of a kick in the pants.  Clearly, the on-court beatings weren't doing the trick.

So perhaps this post-game pummeling will.  This team is certainly the type that can take it.  For all the talk across the Association of the athletes being too young, pampered and sensitive to be able to withstand the type of comments Van Gundy made on Friday, this Magic team can and will take Stan Van's words and build off them.  This team is made up of guys who have survived by working hard and not taking anything for granted.  Dwight Howard is as coachable a young star as there is in the league, and he will take Van Gundy's words as a personal challenge to up his effort.  Jameer Nelson spent his college career facing doubts about his size and most of the early part of his pro career hearing about how he will never make it big in this league.  Rashard Lewis has been working hard all season to prove that he actually deserves the mega-contract he signed over the summer.  Keith Bogans played under pressure for Tubby Smith at Kentucky. 

The point here is that it doesn't take a lot to light under a fire under many of the players in this group.  Coach Van Gundy's comments are very likely to do just that.  As we saw over the first 20 games of the season, this is a team that wants to establish itself as one of the top in the East if not in the game at large.  These guys want to get better together, and they want the respect that comes with success.  By knocking them down a peg (or perhaps quite a few pegs), Van Gundy will only force them to work harder for that sucess.  Further, if he has gotten his team angry with him, it only makes the players more likely to band closer with one another as they look to prove him wrong.

In the long run, the stunt Stan Van Gundy pulled on Friday night is the type of thing that he won't want to do very often.  Do it too often, and one risks the words beginning to ring hollow in the players' ears.  But on a young team that hasn't yet come anywhere close to beginning to drowning out the voice of the taskmaster coach, SVG stepped in at just the right time with some well-placed anger over poor play.  Now, the dividends just need to stay hidden until after the Magic visit Boston on Sunday evening. 

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