MIAMI (AP) - This notion of a highly heated Miami-Orlando rivalry is nothing new, though the perceived level of venom between the clubs may be higher than ever.
With arenas separated by 235 miles and no shortage of heated moments dotting their history, the clubs _ now two of the NBA’s marquee teams and clear title hopefuls _ meet Friday night in Miami’s home opener. LeBron James and Chris Bosh will be welcomed again to South Florida, and the Magic know they’ll be getting a chilly reception in balmy Miami.
“We’re trying,” Magic center Dwight Howard said, “to take their heads off.”
It has been that kind of a summer, months of verbal jousting that upped the ante and set the stage for even higher drama. Come Friday, talk will finally be cheap.
A week after the teams’ preseason game was cancelled because of a slippery court in Tampa, an icy relationship is set to resume.
“Anything that creates interest in the NBA, anything that creates interest in basketball particularly in this state, as far as I’m concerned, is fantastic,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I think our team’s pretty highly motivated anyway. I think they have been for the last three years. I don’t really think they needed a motivation boost. I don’t think motivation has ever been our problem and won’t be this year.”
Not that the Heat-Magic rivalry lacked inspiration. There’s history, plenty of it.
Greg Kite and Rony Seikaly threw roundhouse punches at each other. Keith Askins spit toward the Orlando bench in retaliation for being targeted with hard fouls. Chris Gatling challenged Shaquille O’Neal to a fight. The Van Gundy chapter, when the Magic needed to dig deeply into their pockets just to pry him from his Heat contract and so they could hire him as coach.
And those are just a few historical highlights.
“There’s always been something there,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said.
However, most players say NBA rivalries are not really be born until the playoffs. If that’s true, Miami’s new star faces then already are qualified to have them with Orlando.
The last time Bosh went to the playoffs, he was ousted by Orlando. And James famously didn’t stick around long enough to shake hands with the Magic when Orlando prevailed over Cleveland in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, creating a stir that lasted for weeks.
This summer, a new powderkeg got lighted.
Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith questioned James‘ competitiveness for choosing to play alongside fellow stars like Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Heat President Pat Riley called that remark “absolutely stupid,” and Van Gundy then called out Riley for making moral judgments _ and so on, and so on, and so on.
“Orlando, that’s funny that they questioned my competitiveness,” James said. “I like that. The locker room _ we’re going to put a lot of stuff in the locker room.”