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[T]he teams share at least one vital thing in common, something that finally makes this rivalry meaningful not just geographically, but on the court. For the first time since the NBA planted two teams within 250 miles of one another in the bottom half of Florida, Orlando and Miami are championship contenders in the same season.
Now, Pat Riley's slick is matched by Stan Van Gundy's wit. Miami unveiled a new $400 million roster starring LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Orlando opened a new $400 million arena to give the franchise another boost toward a championship breakthrough.
Said Heat forward Udonis Haslem: "They got a team that's been good and is built pretty solid for the next four or five years, and we've got a team built to be the same way. It can definitely build up to that level of one of those fierce rivalries. Plus, when you add in some of the things that have been said back and forth this summer about LeBron, about us, it's there even more."
Orlando and Miami, up to this point, have never competed against each other for even a conference championship. Whenever the Heat were an elite team, the Magic were merely good and vice-versa. They have played for state of Florida bragging rights, and little else. Sure, they had a somewhat memorable first round series in the 1997 NBA Playoffs, thanks in large part to Penny Hardaway’s Herculean efforts in Games 3 and 4 (back-to-back 40 point games) to make what was a one-sided matchup into a competitive battle.
That’s it, though.
For the Magic and Heat, countless players have come and gone. As such, not many star players have had a chance to leave an indelible mark on the head-to-head series. It’s true that Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard have been the most consistent faces, in terms of in-their-prime superstar talent, between Orlando and Miami in recent years, but there’s never been a signature moment between them.
No, it’s not a rivalry.
But rivalries have to start somewhere, and if you had to guess where the NBA’s next great one was going to start … Miami, tonight, is as good a bet as there is. The ingredients are assembled.