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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

Jeff Van Gundy gives fans little to criticize

The sports commentator and younger brother of the Orlando Magic's coach tries to remain unbiased in his analysis of the NBA Finals between the Magic and the Lakers.

June 09, 2009|DIANE PUCIN and Diane Pucin

Jeff Van Gundy isn't surprised that Lakers fans have found little to criticize about his analysis during ABC's telecasts of the first two games of the NBA Finals.

"Hey, the Lakers are up 2-0," he said Monday morning. "What do they have to be unhappy about?"

Not that much, and so even if they had detected any bias in Van Gundy's views, even if they thought he was in any way openly rooting for the Magic, which is coached by his big brother, Stan Van Gundy, it would be pretty mean-spirited to make a big deal about it.

"I'm doing my best," Jeff Van Gundy said. "But it's hard. I haven't hid it, I won't hide it now. He's my brother. This is the biggest moment of his life. I want him to win. So it's hard.

"Do I find myself pulling my punches? Probably. Do I think twice before I make a criticism about the Lakers? Absolutely. But, hey, how much could they have been criticized so far? Not much."

Van Gundy said that in thinking about Sunday's broadcast, he probably wasn't as vocal about criticizing some officials' calls he thought went the Lakers' way.

For example, at the end of the first quarter there was a blocking foul called on Magic center Dwight Howard. While fellow ABC analyst Mark Jackson immediately said it was a bad call and waited for Van Gundy's response, there was uncomfortable silence, as if Van Gundy were biting his tongue.

And he admits he was.

Van Gundy, though, didn't hold his tongue after Stan Van Gundy gave the Magic a noisy tongue-lashing during a timeout.

Early in that game, a 101-96 Lakers overtime win, Jeff listened to Stan's red-faced, voice-cracking rant telling his team it was playing "terrible."

"I disagree with Stan," Jeff Van Gundy said on the telecast. "Turnovers are a problem, but I think they're playing a much better game" than they did on Thursday in Game 1.

And then there was this comment from Jeff Van Gundy: "I'm going to say this; the lineup on the floor for Orlando probably hasn't played 100 total minutes together this year." Lakers fans may have thought he was making excuses. "But that was just a fact," he said Monday.

There also was a moment during the broadcast when Van Gundy let out his emotions a bit. "When I was a kid growing up," he said, "Stan was always Batman. I was Robin. I know my role."

His role is the little brother who looks up to the big brother, and it's a role Van Gundy didn't give up when Stan surprised a lot of people and took the Magic to the Finals.

And yet, after the Magic botched two fastbreaks early in Sunday's game, you couldn't see it but you could almost feel Jeff Van Gundy wagging his finger in his brother's face when he said: "Those are the worst fastbreaks I've ever seen run. I'm sorry, you've got four on two, I don't care what guard has the ball, you've got to make the right decisions."

When cameras caught Lakers Coach Phil Jackson smiling, Jeff said, "I'd smile too if I had Kobe [Bryant] on my team."

One Lakers fan did e-mail that he thought Jeff Van Gundy was being so full of praise for Los Angeles and especially Bryant that, he said, "I think he wants the Lakers job if Phil retires."

And Jeff Van Gundy says that he was touched Sunday night when Bryant made a point of praising Stan's play call at the end of regulation, when there was under a second left and Hedo Turkoglu made a clever lob to guard Courtney Lee. Only the fact that Lee missed the layup kept the series from being 1-1.

"It was a great play call from an excellent coach," Jeff Van Gundy said. "I'm glad Kobe recognized that and mentioned it. I wish I had talked about it more. Just consider the moment and how big a play that was and what kind of coaching mind it takes to come up with that. It was a great call."

It's only been two games, but Jeff Van Gundy said it already has been a long series.

"It's tough," he said. "I'm not going to lie. I want my brother to win and so far, he hasn't."

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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