The same coach who proclaimed last season that Dwight Howard wanted him fired has come to his defense.

Stan Van Gundy heard the comments Howard made in an interview with CBS2/KCAL9 in which he said, "My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted," he said. "I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face."

Unlike some of Howard's former teammates, Van Gundy said he didn't feel offended.

"He did not, in my opinion mean to say I didn't play with good players in Orlando," Van Gundy said in a phone interview with this newspaper.

"He was basically trying to defend himself in his demeanor saying he can be smiling and still be serious about winning. What he meant to say is 'We had an underrated or under-the-radar team in Orlando and we won a lot of games and I was the best player on that team and this was my demeanor."

Several teammates believed Howard's comments diminished his supporting cast's contributions. Miami Heat forward Rashard Lewis, who played with Howard for 3½ seasons, considered Howard's comments "disrespectful" toward his former contributions that entailed five playoff stints and an NBA Finals appearance in 2009 against the Lakers during Howard's eight-year tenure (2004-12).

When the Lakers visit Orlando on Tuesday, that story line likely will escalate.