"It is Orlando that plays the insideout game that has produced four titles for the Spurs since the 1998-99 season. That is because the Magic has the Tim Duncan of the East. Dwight Howard, still 21, has neither the fundamentals nor the finesse that defines Duncan's game, but when Duncan was Howard's age he was still in his senior season at Wake Forest.Milwaukee: Fast Start provides hope:
Imagine Howard at 25, with Nelson having improved his perimeter shot the way Tony Parker has over the past three seasons, and it is not hard to envision spending a lot of time at NBA Finals in central Florida."
"The point guard is one of the keys for them, I think, right now. Jameer (Nelson) is playing great. They've got the other end of the spectrum in Dwight Howard and they've got a lot of pieces in between. So it's a pretty good formula."New York Daily News
They waged the battle of Florida Saturday night, which never used to be much of a battle, and would never be mistaken for a blood feud.
But now it's as bitter a rivalry as we have in the NBA, because of the coaches. Saturday night was the first time that Pat Riley faced new Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy since driving Van Gundy off the Miami Heat's bench and taking over the Heat two seasons ago.
When the Heat went on to win the title in 2006, Riley offered his long-time, right-hand man a championship ring. Technically, Van Gundy was still a consultant as he was in exile, and Riley insisted throughout the Heat's playoff run that his former right-hand man was an integral part of the staff, always deeply involved in strategy sessions via e-mail.
But Van Gundy refused to take the championship jewelry, which tells you all you need to know about whether he really resigned, as the company line went, or whether he was forced by Riley to leave. So last night marked the start of an intense rivalry.
"Stan could come out and say that Riley got rid of him, but he keeps everything on the positive," said a Magic insider. "Stan wants to beat him, of course, and now he has the great, young superstar in Dwight Howard to make Riley pay. But he'll never say what really happened."
Not for publication, anyway, and not that it really matters, three seasons later. Let's just say that Van Gundy likes where he sits these days. While Riley has his hands full trying to coax Shaquille O'Neal into giving him productive minutes and dealing with characters such as Ricky Davis, Van Gundy has the luxury of going into battles with Howard, who outplayed Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan during a four-day span last week, as the Magic sent the Celtics to their first defeat of the season, 104-102, and then lost to the Spurs, 128-110.
Looking at the two rosters and where each team is headed, Riley probably wishes he could force Van Gundy out of this job, too.