A year ago, the spit flew fast and furious as the Magic and Heat faced each other. Stan Van Gundy sent pot shots against his former employers and the Magic, feeling threatened atop the Southeast Division, played the role of past champion and put down the new team.
The second game of the season silenced the rivalry very briefly and showed, if it was not clear before, it was clear then, the Heat were ascending and the Magic were descending.
OK, Orlando and Miami split its four games last season. But the Magic needed a crazy 20-plus point comeback in the fourth quarter to get one of those wins. And in the other loss, the Magic had a big comeback to make the game relatively close.
That means, Orlando was more or less blown out in three of the four contests last season against its rivals downstate. And the two games after the trades (even though those were split too), were blowouts until wild fourth-quarter comebacks.
This year, the gulf between the teams seems to be widening and the rivalry has lot a lot of its bite.
The Heat are out to the front of the Southeast Division and have an 18-6 record and are out to a 3.5 game lead on the Magic. Miami is playing Cleveland tonight in South Florida, so that could be three or four games when the team strolls into Orlando.
The Heat have obviously been one of the top teams in the league. According to HoopData, Miami has the top offense in the league with a 106.1 offensive rating and has a top-10 defense with a 97.2 defensive rating.
Yes, Miami is still very good. The Heat's future looks incredibly bright while the Magic's future looks incredibly uncertain.
But that is the thing with rivalry games, you can always throw everything else out the window when the two teams get together. And the Heat always know they have the target on their backs.
That is why it is more important than ever to make sure Amway Center is full and loud (like the end of Monday's night's loss to the Clippers). Here is a great ticket offer from our friends at TiqIQ:
In a highly anticipated Florida showdown, the Magic will face the Heat on Wednesday night at Amway in their first regular season meeting of 2011-12. With the price of a ticket to the game selling for 25% above the Magic home average this is a pretty hot ticket, and if you'd like to see it live then we've got a deal for you. Through our ticket partner TIqIQ, you can essentially pick your price via the TiqIQ "make an offer" feature from Score Big. For Wednesday night's game, a "3 star" seat that usually goes for $215+ (after all the shipping and handling fees) can be scored for an offer of $126. But you need to make a fast break for this ticket deal, as it expires tonight at 7pm! Make your offer today right here: http://tiqiq.us/7Xx
It is always fun to catch three All-Stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (both starters) and Chris Bosh (likely to be named a reserve on Thursday). And it should be a good game. These always seem to turn out that way.
But the Magic and Heat are heading in different directions it seems. Even with the Magic playing well, the spectre of two weeks ago still hangs over their head.
Also not working in Orlando's favor is its 5-8 record against teams above .500. The Magic are settling, uneasily, into a mid-position in the Eastern Conference. There are not many "strong" wins so far in Orlando's record.
This one will not be easy for the Magic. The Heat hold a matchup advantage at just about every position -- aside from Dwight Howard at center. And the Heat might actually have a better bench now too. That was one of the advantages Orlando claimed it had last season. That has fallen completely apart.
The brief glimpses we got in the matchups from the preseason offer a dim picture for Wednesday's game.
We remember those preseason games where the Heat thumped the Magic for about five quarters too.
Of course, we also remember how the Magic came back and played inspired basketball to win the second preseason game. Note that those ARE preseason games.
Still just a sign that this team has it in them to steal one. Wednesday we will get to see what happens when the lights go on.