Orlando seems to be teetering on a Magic Meltdown.
Howard met with Van Gundy and apologized Wednesday -- but did not retract his statements -- after publicly challenging the coach's strategy in the Game 5 collapse. The Magic center even added another bold comment as the Celtics look to close out Orlando in Game 6 Thursday and move on to the Eastern Conference finals.
"We can't give up hope," Howard said Wednesday. "We're in this series to win it. We are going to win this series."
That will take quite a turnaround.
It was the second time during these playoffs Howard has questioned why the Magic coach doesn't run more of the offense through him, with the latest being the loudest and most direct. The two met privately Wednesday before the team's film session and said they resolved their differences.
"Getting the ball shouldn't be a big issue for me," Howard said. "There's more ways to dominate the game than scoring. Me and coach, we talked about that. I just can't let my frustrations get to the point where I'll say anything."
Meanwhile, Magic general manager Otis Smith pledged that the beleaguered Van Gundy's job as coach of the Magic is safe.
"I don't understand why he wouldn't be," Smith told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday afternoon. "He's still the coach that he is. He still does a good job doing what he does."
Howard's comments come in a season where Shaquille O'Neal criticized Van Gundy, his former coach with the Miami Heat. O'Neal, who openly complained about coaching decisions following Miami's Game 7 loss to Detroit in the 2005 Eastern Conference finals, went as far as calling Van Gundy a "master of panic" and a "frontrunner" after the Magic coach insisted O'Neal flopped in a game in March.
Howard's comments have caused enough uproar in Orlando that Van Gundy even suggested Wednesday that any Magic fans starting to panic need to keep their cool.
"If you're an Orlando fan and you consider a loss like that on Boston's home court humiliating, it probably speaks more to the fact that you haven't seen enough playoff series around here in a long time," Van Gundy said. "That kind of panic wouldn't exist in cities that are used to having teams in tough playoff series year after year after year."
The Celtics have to feel confident.
The defending champions took Game 4 on a jumper by Glen "Big Baby" Davis as time expired, rallied in Game 5 despite struggling for most of the night and have the Magic on the brink of elimination. Boston is 32-0 when it takes a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series.
The Celtics failed to close out the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 in their first-round series, a triple-overtime epic. The Celtics are 17-3 in Games 7s at home.
And watching the Magic's infighting can only be more satisfying.
"Are we inside their heads?" Davis asked. "It's still a series. We've got to go into their house where they'll be fighting for their lives."
Orlando's problems all seem to revolve around Howard.
He didn't take a shot after hitting a running hook with 6:50 remaining. He finished with 12 points on just 10 shots, with few touches late in the game. Then he fired off at Van Gundy's strategy afterward.
"I will say it's tough to win when all season long you play inside out and you trust one of the people that got you off to a good season," Howard said after Game 5. "I think I'm capable of scoring in the post, so you know, I just don't think 10 shots, I don't wanna say it's all about offense. You got a dominant player, let him be dominant."
Van Gundy did not take the comments lightly.
He insisted that Howard needs to be more adamant about demanding the ball with his play and would like to see his center maintain a high effort. While Van Gundy said he doesn't let criticism bother him, he admitted he would like to keep those differences internal.
"Would you rather he didn't say those things? Absolutely," Van Gundy said. "At the same time, in some ways you'd be disappointed that there wasn't any frustration after [Game 5]. Now you got to put that frustration away and channel it in such a way that you'll be ready to play."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.