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Ira Winderman: Based on how balls bounced, is a rivalry brewing for Heat?

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

BOSTON — As he walked off the Miami Heat practice court Monday, veteran forward and converted hockey fan Udonis Haslem shook his head.

“Not good. Not good,” he said. “The Lightning, that’s not good for us, right?”

He was talking about the Florida Panthers’ second-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the two-time-defending Stanley Cup champions. And he recognized an intrastate rivalry percolating because of the Panthers’ rise to contender status.

The day after Haslem’s forecast, ahead of what turned into 0-2 direness for his adopted Panthers, another intrastate rivalry received a jolt, with the Orlando Magic winning the NBA lottery, the first pick in the June 23 draft now theirs.

That, of course, is a big deal.

And the Magic certainly have done big things with such selections before, turning previous No. 1 selections into Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway (through trade) and Dwight Howard.

The Heat, by contrast, with the notable exception of Dwyane Wade, largely have created their success through free agency or trades, including LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, and, yes, Shaq.

Yet where the two Florida franchises have never converged is a playoff series of heft. When the Magic were up, the Heat were down, and vice versa, with this season as the latest evidence.

In the Heat’s 34 seasons, they have faced the Magic in the playoffs once, winning in the best-of-five 1997 first round.

Otherwise, for all the bluster of former Magic executive Pat Williams at the franchises’ inceptions, not much.

It was Williams, in fact, who went as far as to try to create a trophy for the annual season series, noting of the trophy, “It’s an ugly, ugly trophy. It cures hiccups, it’s so ugly.”

So perhaps something real now, with the lottery-winning Magic actually with a chance of getting up to where the Heat stand?

That could take more than this year’s No. 1 pick, whether it is Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren or Auburn forward Jabari Smith or Duke forward Paolo Banchero.

 

Yes, it could leave the Magic with the best NBA power forward in the state (or at least as long as Bam Adebayo is listed at center), considering the Heat’s revolving door at power forward in recent years of long-in-the-tooth Jae Crowder, Trevor Ariza and, now, P.J. Tucker.

But there also simply are too many questions on the Magic roster, from the health of Jonathan Isaac to the contract uncertainty with Mo Bamba, to what exactly might come of Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter or even the ultimate upside of Franz Wagner or Jalen Suggs.

We have been at this crossroads before, where the draft could transform the Magic to something closer to what Pat Riley has fastidiously developed in South Florida.

There was Suggs last year at No. 5, Bamba at No. 6 in 2018, Isaac at No. 6 in 2017, Mario Hezonja at No. 5 in 2015, Aaron Gordon at No. 4 in 2014 and, yes, even current Heat guard Victor Oladipo at No. 2 in 2013.

To put that in perspective, since 2013, the highest Heat pick was Justise Winslow, at No. 10 in 2015, needing to go back to Michael Beasley at No. 2 in 2008 as the Heat’s last single-digit first-round pick.

The fact is the Heat could use some legitimate competition in their division, with 16 games annually against Southeast rivals.

The Charlotte Hornets are going through another coach. The Washington Wizards are wobbling amid Bradley Beal uncertainty. The Atlanta Hawks regressed, as their first-round ouster at the hands of the Heat showed.

So now, from the depths of 22-60, come the Magic with their No. 1 selection, in a draft without a consensus No. 1.

But, for now, because of Tuesday night’s Ping-Pong balls, at least hope again.

“We’re at the stage right now where we’re not a need-based team,” Magic executive Jeff Weltman said.

Actually, they very much are in need.

As is any hope of the true arrival of an intrastate rivalry.

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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