The Miami Heat come to the Amway Center tonight to face off against their Sunshine State and Southeast Division rivals, the Orlando Magic. The Heat have been in the NBA one season longer than the Magic and have one Finals appearance and one title. Their central Florida brethren have made two trips to the Finals, once in 1995 and again in 2009, but walked away runners-up each time. As it stands now, both squads are looking up to last year’s Eastern Conference Champs, the Boston Celtics, in the standings.
Miami possesses a 34-14 record, which is tied with the Chicago Bulls for third best in the league – 3 games behind the C’s in the East. One-time Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy’s Magic sit 3.5 games behind the Heat at 31-18.
This will be the third of four games matching these two title contenders this season. Each team held court at home in the first two meetings, with Miami blowing out Orlando on October 29th 96-70 in the new Big 3’s third regular season game playing together. Then, on the day before Thanksgiving, the Magic topped Erik Spoelstra’s guys 104-95, behind all-everything big man Dwight Howard’s 18 boards and seventh-year PG Jameer Nelson’s career-high 14 dimes.
The Heat beat LeBron’s former team, the spiraling Cleveland Cavaliers, on Monday in the 305 by 27 points, with another former Cav, Miami’s 7’-3”, thirteenth-year center Zydrunas Ilgauskas grabbing a season-high with 14 total boards including 9 on the offensive end.
Orlando played last on Monday as well, but were on the road in Tennessee where they lost by 3 points to the recently re-charged Memphis Grizzlies. The Magic have been hovering around .500 on the road at 13-12, however in the NBA’s newest, and in commissioner David Stern’s opinion the best, building in basketball, the shiny Amway Center, they’ve compiled a rugged 18-6 mark.
Both sides tonight rank near the top of the league in team rebounding as well as points allowed per game. The Heat are sixth in rebounding and fifth in points allowed in the NBA, while the Magic, led by Howard’s 13.6 rpg and 2.2 blocks per game, are fifth in glass-work and seventh in points allowed.
As if this game needed any more fuel to stoke the competitive fires, Orlando Magic President, former NBA player and native Floridian Otis Smith’s July comments questioning King James’ competitive spirit in reference to his move from his home-state Cavaliers to the recently created and widely dissected super-Triumvirate in Miami are still in the front of the Heat’s collective mind. The fuel in the Miami motivation tank for tonight’s game appears to be on ‘F’. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I will be on deck for TNT’s coverage of the Miami Heat at Orlando Magic tonight at 8:00 PM ET.