- Associated Press - Thursday, October 28, 2010

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.”

James said that on July 9, about two hours after actually signing his Heat contract.

Yes, this buildup to Heat-Magic I has gone on all summer _ so riveting that someone spent $25,884 for two courtside seats on StubHub.com just to have the best possible view for the matchup.

“Our fans will be very excited,” Wade said. “To have the first game at home and a good opportunity to see our team play together for once, I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere. Of course, the matchup with Orlando is probably what everybody in Florida wants. It’s good for the game, it’s good for ratings and it will be good for us.”

Of late, the rivalry hasn’t been much of a rivalry.

Orlando is 15-5 against Miami since the start of the 2005-06 season, outscoring the Heat by an average of 7.4 points per game in that span and winning six of those games by more than 15 points. (Orlando also won 14 of its last 21 meetings with Cleveland when James was with the Cavaliers, and 10 of its last 14 against Toronto, Bosh’s former club.)

So while the words from Smith _ “What Otis said wasn’t a stupid remark, unless of course you have a different opinion than Pat, then apparently it’s stupid,” Van Gundy told OrlandoMagic.com this summer _ may have stung Miami, it’s the results that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants his team fixated upon more.

“That’s part of the motivation and that’s also how this team will be viewed this year,” Spoelstra said. “What I’ve told the guys is, our motivation is deeper than that. It can’t just be about what people are saying about us or what kind of mud they’re throwing at us. We’re playing for something bigger than just trying to shut people up.”

Adding another layer to all this is the close relationship between Van Gundy and Spoelstra, both Riley proteges.

When Van Gundy left Miami under circumstances that were never made perfectly clear _ he cited a desire to spend more time with his family, and Riley openly wept when Van Gundy made that announcement _ Spoelstra vaulted up the coaching depth chart with the Heat. And when Riley retired for a second time, Spoelstra was the choice to take over.

Van Gundy and Spoelstra appeared together at a Florida Marlins game this summer, and dined together at the NBA’s coaches’ meetings. But the back-and-forth between the clubs may mean the coaches aren’t as close as they once were.

“At times, you will talk about basketball or about other guys in the league,” Van Gundy said. “A passing comment there, ‘You guys are playing well or whatever.’ But not a whole lot of basketball, certainly not what you do when you work with somebody. It’s a lot about family and day-to-day stuff more than anything else. It’s not like we’d be giving away basketball secrets anyway.”

They talked about the words going up and down Florida’s Turnpike this summer. What they said in those conversations, neither would reveal. Van Gundy said last week that Spoelstra is well-equipped to handle the pressure of coaching a team with title expectations, noting that Spoelstra doesn’t have an ego that will get in his own way.

For his part, Van Gundy thought the most damning things he said this summer should have been portrayed as flattering, not insulting. That includes when he and his brother Jeff Van Gundy, a former coach and now a television analyst who also has plenty of history with Riley, indicated that the Heat might challenge Chicago’s mark of 72 wins in a season.

“They got upset because of negative comments I made,” Van Gundy said. “Now if you’re going to tell me they were upset that I made positive comments, then I really don’t know where to go. So, look, I’m not trying to ramp-up pressure. There’s pressure on everybody in this league if that’s the way he’s looking at it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do.”

Players say they’ll just play.

“A rivalry doesn’t happen in one game,” Magic guard Vince Carter said.

Magic swingman Quentin Richardson saw this from the other bench last season, when he was with Miami. There might have been sparks then, but nothing like now, he said.

“The moves they made this summer, I think it just became such a big deal,” Richardson said. “Because it didn’t seem such a big deal last year when I was there, so I think that’s really what’s blown it up as such a big deal because they got LeBron and Bosh there now. But other than that, I don’t see the big deal.”


Associated Press Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Orlando, Fla. and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.



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