Miami and Orlando are both teams a good majority of the so-called “experts” believe will be contending for the Eastern Conference title in the NBA this year, if not for the NBA crown.
This isn’t surprising, considering both the Heat and the Magic boast starting lineups filled with All-Stars, and have benches filled with talented players as well. Simply put, they’re quite similar in many respects.
What isn’t similar, is how Orlando has come out and played in their season-opener.
As of halftime, they’re destroying the Washington Wizards to the tune of 58-34. That’s a 24-point margin, and judging from what I’ve seen so far, it’s more likely to grow once the second-half begins than it is to shrink.
It must be noted, though, that the Magic are playing at home for their season-opener, rather than on the road as the Heat did when they traveled to Boston to face the Celtics. It must also be noted that Washington is nowhere near the team the talent-laden boys from Beantown are.
The Wizards have a very talented rookie in John Wall, who I’m sure the fans from Washington are confident will eventually blossom into a superstar, and they’ve got a few other players who would be welcomed on many benches around the NBA, such as Kirk Hinrich, Al Thornton, and JaVale McGee, but they’re missing their one and only “star”, Gilbert Arenas, because of an injured ankle.
I doubt even Arenas would be able to help them much in the contest against the behemoth called the Magic, but he may have kept it closer.
As it is, they’re more than just undermanned against a team that starts the likes of Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Quentin Richardson, and Dwight Howard, they’re outmatched in every way possible.
I don’t think the Magic will be finding such a pleasant environment when they travel to Miami tomorrow night to face the Heat. No, in that game, Stan Van Gundy’s squad will be facing a much more talented team, and they know it.
And while Orlando is shining tonight, there’s a good argument to be made they won’t fair as well when they arrive at South Beach.
Sure, the Magic have seemingly owned the Heat since the 2005-06 season (the year Miami won the title), going 15-5 against them during that span, with six of those 15 victories being by more than 15 points. However, these two teams split the series last year, with Miami taking the first two games of the year against Orlando.
All that is pretty irrelevant, anyway, as the Miami Heat of this year and the Miami Heat of last year are two completely different animals.
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, in discussing the in-state rivalry between these two franchises, said, “We’re trying to take their heads off.”
Good luck with that, Dwight. I think the Heat are going to have just a little bit to say about that. In fact, I think they’re going to have a lot to say, with their on-the-court play, that is.
There’s been quite a bit of verbal jousting between the two teams all summer long, with comments like the one Otis Smith made questioning LeBron James’ competitiveness for having chosen to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Such “absolutely stupid” comments, as Heat President Pat Riley called them, are typical locker-room wall fodder, and James made it clear that’s exactly where it’ll go.
“Orlando, that’s funny that they questioned my competitiveness,” LeBron said. “I like that. The locker room—we’re going to put a lot of stuff in the locker room.”
Stuff like what Howard said.
The rivalry between the Heat and Magic isn’t anything new, either. It’s been going on since both teams came in the league, and has carried on through numerous coaching changes and rosters.
“There’s always been something there,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, referring to the enmity that exists between the two clubs.
Two of Miami’s newest additions, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, have their own personal reasons for having bad feelings about the boys from O-Town, as they were both ousted in the playoffs by the boys in silver and blue.
Bosh saw his Toronto Raptors squad sent home by the Magic the last time he saw the postseason, and James was exited from the Eastern Conference Finals by the Orlando club just two seasons ago, infamously refusing to shake their hands as he left the court.
Those feelings, along with all the new ones that have built up over the summer, make for a very compelling night in South Beach tomorrow.
If you thought it was a media circus in Boston on Tuesday night, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The home-opener for this Heat team, playing before 20,000 rabid Miami fans as they take on an Eastern Conference powerhouse and in-state rival, will equal anything you saw in the NBA playoffs last year.
The fanfare and hype will be through the roof. As two of Pat Riley’s most successful protégés try and guide their teams to a second victory on the year, there’ll be more pundits talking about it than there are at the World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers going on tonight.
The “Three Kings”, and LeBron James in particular, just cause that kind of commotion.
However, it might be his teammate, Dwyane Wade, who steals the show tomorrow. He certainly seemed in sync last night, and with another day of rest to get his hamstring even better, I’m sure he’ll be displaying all his talents on the court tomorrow night.
In fact, the first game the Heat played the Magic in AmericanAirlines Arena last year he torched them for 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in a 104-86 Miami victory over Orlando. He was helped in that game by former Heat player, Michael Beasley, who put up 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Hopefully he’ll lead the “Three Kings” to a victory tomorrow, too.
That’s not to say LeBron won’t do his thing as well. He averaged 34 points per game the last five times he’s faced Orlando, and I don’t see why that would change. I fully expect all of the Miami Heat players to show far more chemistry than they did even last night, and tons more than they did in the first half of that season-opening embarrassing loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.
Wade recently Tweeted that he’s no longer to be considered Flash. He says he’s a different person now than he was when he first took on that moniker. He’s grown personally, is a father, and wants to begin a new chapter in his life.
I’m all for that, as I believe in personal growth, but considering the Heat will be facing a man who is affectionately known to his fans as Superman (stealing the nickname from a former Miami center we won’t name), I’d say Dwyane needs to make sure he at least brings his heroic game, even if he won’t be calling himself by comic-book superhero names.
For my money, I’d bet he will, as he torches Vince Carter and the Magic tomorrow night. Orlando will obviously be playing the second game of a back-to-back, and even though the Wizards haven’t afforded them any competition tonight, trailing 90-59 through three quarters as Howard has 23 points and 10 boards and four other Magic players are in double-figures, playing back-to-backs still takes a toll. It also should be noted that while Howard is a beast, Miami held him to an average of just 11.5 points per game in the fourmeetings the two teams split last year.
So, look forward to one of the most important games of the year for the Heat. If they win against the Magic, everyone will recognize this Miami squad is just getting started. If they find a way to lose to Orlando, they’ll discover a million more haters ready to pounce and call them a flop.
Tags: Boston Celtics Chris Bosh Dwight Howard Dwyane Wade Erik Spoelstra Jameer Nelson Lebron James Miami Heat NBA Orlando Magic Otis Smith Pat Riley Quentin Richardson Rashard Lewis Stan Van Gundy Vince Carter