ORLANDO, Fla. -- Stan Van Gundy walked into the Orlando Magic locker room Thursday morning, and before he could even prepare for practice, his players had a message.
"You better leave Shaq alone," forward Rashard Lewis told him.
And with that, the Flop-Flap continued.
A day after Shaquille O'Neal called his former coach with the Miami Heat "a master of panic" and "a frontrunner," Van Gundy responded by jokingly calling O'Neal a "very sensitive guy." He said everyone needs to "consider the source" before taking the comments too seriously.
The Magic coach said he didn't take O'Neal's remarks personal, but admitted O'Neal may have gone too far -- even for his usual jokes.
"That's not his normal comments," Van Gundy said after Orlando's practice Thursday. "Obviously I struck a nerve and hurt his feelings. Shaq's a very sensitive guy. If I hurt his feelings, I'm sorry."
The feud started after the Magic's 111-99 win over O'Neal's Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
O'Neal was guarding Magic center Dwight Howard with about 4 minutes left in the third quarter. Howard made a spin move, O'Neal fell in an apparent flop trying to get an offensive foul called, and Howard easily dunked with two hands.
Afterward, Van Gundy said he was surprised by O'Neal's move. "I was shocked and very disappointed cause he knows what it's like. You know, let's stand up and play like men, and I think our guy did that."
And of course, O'Neal responded.
"One thing I really despise is a frontrunner," O'Neal said Wednesday before the Suns' game in Miami. "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."
The relationship between Van Gundy and O'Neal has been rocky for years.
O'Neal arrived in Miami for the 2004-05 season, helped the Heat win 59 games that season playing alongside Dwyane Wade and with Van Gundy on the sideline. But that season ended with a loss to the Detroit Pistons, a game where Miami squandered a six-point lead over the final 7 minutes. After the game, O'Neal said he didn't get the ball enough.
Van Gundy resigned 21 games into the next season, Pat Riley returned to the bench and the Heat won a championship, O'Neal's fourth title.
"I'm pretty sure that every player who's ever played for me doesn't hate me," Van Gundy said Thursday. "Now we'd have to do a survey, but I've coached a lot of guys, and I'm pretty sure there's one or two that don't hate me. I don't know that any liked me. But I'm pretty sure there's one or two who don't hate me. So I don't worry about that because, quite honestly, I don't think it's true."
Magic players defended their coach but refused to take a jab back at O'Neal.
"We like him," Lewis said of Van Gundy. "I mean, sometimes we don't because he screams and yells all the time, but that's just a part of him being the coach. As long as we continue to win games, you can't complain too much."
Howard has long been ridiculed by the O'Neal for his use of the Superman nickname -- one they have both claimed. O'Neal has also called out Howard, saying he hasn't done anything in Orlando he hadn't done before.
On Thursday, Howard again sidestepped any barbs at O'Neal. But when asked if he tries to take charges or has ever attempted a flop, Howard said that's not a center's role.
"They've been trying to get me to take charges, and I just can't do it," Howard said. "When we do charge drills in practice, I don't like them. Like I tell my guys, I'm not taking a charge. If I'm 7 feet, I'm supposed to be blocking a shot."
Van Gundy said he was joking when he made the comments and didn't lose any sleep when O'Neal responded. He considers the feud over, but realized O'Neal may again fire back.
"I started it. I made my comment," Van Gundy said. "If you're going to dish it out, you've got to be able to take it. And I can take it."