Magic-Heat Preview

The Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic spent much of the summer

trading verbal barbs and stoking the flames of a growing rivalry

that will play a part in who will win the Eastern Conference.

They’ll finally take the court in one of the most anticipated

matchups of the young season for the Heat’s home opener Friday

night.

Miami (1-1) made by far the biggest splash of the offseason,

adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a team already boasting

Dwyane Wade. The moves garnered the Heat status as favorites to win

the NBA crown.

Orlando (1-0), however, has taken exception to that notion. The

Magic have established themselves among the league’s elite,

reaching the conference finals last spring after an NBA Finals

appearance at the expense of James and Cleveland in 2009.

“We’re trying to take their heads off,” Magic center Dwight

Howard said.

Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith even

questioned James’ competitiveness for choosing to play alongside

Bosh and Wade. Heat president Pat Riley called that remark

“absolutely stupid,” and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy then called out

Riley for making moral judgments as the two intrastate foes

ratcheted up the trash-talking rhetoric during the offseason.

“Orlando, that’s funny that they questioned my competitiveness,”

James said shortly after announcing he was moving to South Beach.

“I like that. The locker room – we’re going to put a lot of stuff

in the locker room.”

The moves for superstar players and the verbal jabs appear to

have elevated a rivalry that has been rather lopsided recently.

Orlando has won 14 of 17, including seven of nine at American

Airlines Arena.

“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.”

The Heat – and the Big Three – haven’t enjoyed a smooth start.

They opened with an 88-80 loss at Boston – the reigning East

champion – on Tuesday before rebounding with a 97-87 win over

Philadelphia the following night.

“We’re not at our peak, we’re not even close,” said Wade, who

had 30 points Wednesday after getting 13 against the Celtics.

James and Bosh are also trying to find a groove after combining

for 31 points versus the 76ers. James has committed 17 turnovers

through two games, but is averaging 34.0 points in his last five

meetings against Orlando.

The Magic already had Miami on their mind while routing

Washington 112-83 to christen their new arena Thursday.

“Honestly, I’m sick of listening every hour about Miami – Miami

that, how great they are, how big they are, what kind of record

they gonna have,”‘ said backup center Marcin Gortat. “I get every

day interviews back in Poland, people calling me about Miami,

Miami, what you think about Miami? What you think about Big Three?

I’m going to say the same thing: they are a great team, they have

three superstars, they got a couple good role players on the

team.

“They looking good on the paper, but they got to start

winning.”

Howard had 23 points and 10 rebounds with three blocks against

the Wizards. However, he was limited to averages of 11.5 points and

11.5 boards as the Magic and Heat split four meetings last

season.

Orlando will be without reserve guard Jason Williams, who will

serve a one-game suspension for making contact with an official

during the season opener.