Orlando’s Dwight Howard ready for some fun
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) ” Leave all that cold-blooded seriousness to Kobe Bryant. Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard is going to have fun in his first NBA finals.
“I’m always going to be that silly person,” Howard said Wednesday before practice at Staples Center. “Basketball brings too much joy to me and everybody who watches me. So there’s no need to be out there trying to look mean and tough. Even if I tried to look mean and tough, everybody in here would laugh and say, ‘That’s not him.’ So it doesn’t work.”
Howard’s dead-on impersonation of hyped-up Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy has been making the rounds this week.
“Dwight is a funny guy,” Van Gundy said. “We hear this stuff all the time.”
As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Howard inherited his father’s sense of fun, although he got scolded by dad for goofing around too much on the court.
“I laughed, I joked,” Howard recalled. “But if I lost the game, I was the first one crying and telling him what I needed to do to get better for the next game.”
Orlando general manager Otis Smith tried to change Howard after the team selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA draft.
“He tried to stop me from smiling on the floor, and it’s not going to work,” Howard said.
Bryant said his 23-year-old U.S. Olympic teammate never had to grow into his role as the centerpiece of Orlando’s franchise.
“He did a great job of that right off the bat,” Bryant said. “He’s a natural. The thing about Dwight is he continues to work on his game and you see improvement, sometimes monthly. You see him adding new things to his game, which says a lot about him.”
SWITCHING ASSIGNMENTS: Pau Gasol figures to be one busy guy against the Orlando Magic.
The Lakers’ big man could see time in the post defending Dwight Howard when he’s not running out to the perimeter and chasing Rashard Lewis at the 3-point line.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Gasol said. “It’s going to take a big focus on my part to be able to flip the switch every time I change matchups and I change players, coverages.”
A year ago, Gasol was just happy to be in his first NBA finals, never having reached that pinnacle in previous playoff runs with Memphis.
The biggest lesson he learned?
“You can’t just go out there and see what happens,” he said. “You’ve got to be really aggressive and go get it. Don’t expect anything, just play hard and hustle and give your best.”
EAGER VAN GUNDY: Thirty minutes into Stan Van Gundy’s first NBA finals, and the Orlando coach was already impatient.
“What I basically learned in a half hour of being here is that it’s hard to do your job because I want to go practice,” he said. “Enough of this stuff.”
He told the media that “you guys make it tough for us to do our job. After practice, you meet with the media a little bit, but I want to get out on the court.”
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson admitted he’s “always been a little bit nervous and anxious for that first game to play.”
He sure didn’t look it, sitting regally in a tall padded chair while appearing placid.
“We’re all on edge just getting ready for it,” Jackson said in a deadpan voice. “You can see how on edge I am.”
BANK SHOTS: The Lakers are 6-4 overall and 5-1 when holding home-court advantage since the NBA went to the current 2-3-2 format before the 1985 finals. … They are 14-15 in Game 1, including a 10-13 mark since moving to Los Angeles. … Orlando is 1-7 all-time in Game 1s on the road in its much-shorter playoff history. … The Magic has five road wins during this season’s playoffs, the most such victories during the postseason in team history.