Orlando (1-0) at Miami (1-1)

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Friday, Oct 29, 2010 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EDT Fri Oct 29, 2010

The Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic spent much of the summer trading verbal barbs and stoking the flames of a growing rivalry that will play a part in who will win the Eastern Conference.

They’ll finally take the court in one of the most anticipated matchups of the young season for the Heat’s home opener Friday night.

Miami (1-1) made by far the biggest splash of the offseason, adding LeBron James(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) to a team already boasting Dwyane Wade(notes). The moves garnered the Heat status as favorites to win the NBA crown.

Orlando (1-0), however, has taken exception to that notion. The Magic have established themselves among the league’s elite, reaching the conference finals last spring after an NBA Finals appearance at the expense of James and Cleveland in 2009.

“We’re trying to take their heads off,” Magic center Dwight Howard(notes) said.

Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith even questioned James’ competitiveness for choosing to play alongside Bosh and Wade. Heat president Pat Riley called that remark “absolutely stupid,” and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy then called out Riley for making moral judgments as the two intrastate foes ratcheted up the trash-talking rhetoric during the offseason.

“Orlando, that’s funny that they questioned my competitiveness,” James said shortly after announcing he was moving to South Beach. “I like that. The locker room - we’re going to put a lot of stuff in the locker room.”

The moves for superstar players and the verbal jabs appear to have elevated a rivalry that has been rather lopsided recently. Orlando has won 14 of 17, including seven of nine at American Airlines Arena.

“Our fans will be very excited,” Wade said. “To have the first game at home and a good opportunity to see our team play together for once, I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere. Of course, the matchup with Orlando is probably what everybody in Florida wants.

“It’s good for the game, it’s good for ratings and it will be good for us.”

The Heat - and the Big Three - haven’t enjoyed a smooth start. They opened with an 88-80 loss at Boston - the reigning East champion - on Tuesday before rebounding with a 97-87 win over Philadelphia the following night.

“We’re not at our peak, we’re not even close,” said Wade, who had 30 points Wednesday after getting 13 against the Celtics.

James and Bosh are also trying to find a groove after combining for 31 points versus the 76ers. James has committed 17 turnovers through two games, but is averaging 34.0 points in his last five meetings against Orlando.

The Magic already had Miami on their mind while routing Washington 112-83 to christen their new arena Thursday.

“Honestly, I’m sick of listening every hour about Miami - Miami that, how great they are, how big they are, what kind of record they gonna have,”’ said backup center Marcin Gortat(notes). “I get every day interviews back in Poland, people calling me about Miami, Miami, what you think about Miami? What you think about Big Three? I’m going to say the same thing: they are a great team, they have three superstars, they got a couple good role players on the team.

“They looking good on the paper, but they got to start winning.”

Howard had 23 points and 10 rebounds with three blocks against the Wizards. However, he was limited to averages of 11.5 points and 11.5 boards as the Magic and Heat split four meetings last season.

Orlando will be without reserve guard Jason Williams(notes), who will serve a one-game suspension for making contact with an official during the season opener.

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Friday, Oct 29