Van Gundy's energy has Magic cruising

The Baltimore Sun

It's not difficult to spot Stan Van Gundy at an NBA arena before games. Just look for the shortest coach with the biggest mustache and smile.

When you're guiding one of the hottest teams, one of the brightest stars and one of the best comeback stories in the NBA this season, it can be tough to keep a straight face.

Van Gundy is only one month into the regular season with his new team, but he already has the Orlando Magic in position to make franchise history.

Orlando won 14 of its first 18 games and entered last night flirt ing with the franchise's best start since 1993-94.

That was when Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway led the Magic to a 15-3 start and the NBA Finals.

This season's Magic has a similar star makeup, with Dwight How ard and Rashard Lewis anchoring a team that was leading the East ern Conference in wins and owned the best road record in the league.

Several factors have led to one of the best starts money could buy. The Magic spent $118 million to sign Lewis this summer and $85 million to extend Howard's contract.

Just as vital as those long-term commitments was the one the Magic made to Van Gundy, whose relentless energy and passion have already rubbed off on his team.

If the Magic's all-out style of play - one built around a dominant big man - looks familiar, it should. Van Gundy is establishing a foundation in Orlando similar to the one he had in Miami, where he coached two-plus sea sons before stepping down 20 games into the Heat's 2005-06 championship season.

"We started the year with good energy, shot the ball well and Dwight has been outstanding," Van Gundy said when asked the keys to Orlando's fast start. "It'll get better. The thing is, we have a group of guys who can still get better."

It's hard to imagine how good this team could be if it got much better. A month ago, it would have been harder to imagine Van Gundy getting this much out of a Magic team that still has glaring voids on its roster.

Look beyond Howard and Lewis and try to find a player who would make your fantasy team. Check the depth at forward and center and point out anyone who has ac complished much more than be ing dunked on by other big men.

This is the challenge Van Gundy emerged from nearly two seasons in Heat exile to embrace. The big ger challenge will be to keep this up.

Michael Wallace writes for The Miami Herald.

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