|Heat-Magic rivalry is personal, sort of, for Van Gundy, Riley|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 22 November 2007 08:42|
He even stayed after Riley retook the reins and won it all.
But now Van Gundy is coaching the Heat's Southeast Division rival Orlando Magic, and his former mentor is in the way. The two compete in the regular season for the first time Saturday, though Van Gundy says it doesn't feel different.
``When we played them in the exhibition season, it was nice to see some of the guys I worked with and kind of wave at them, but there were no real emotions there,'' he said.
Van Gundy learned at Riley's knee, serving six years as top assistant before getting the chance to be head coach of Miami in 2004, while Riley continued as Heat president. He lasted just over two seasons before resigning 21 games into 2005-06, when Riley returned to the sideline.
Both sides insist the decision was mutual, and Van Gundy hasn't wavered on the issue since leaving the Heat. But it was a peculiar parting - at 112-73, he is still has the franchise's best winning percentage.
Their teams now are headed in opposite directions. Orlando's acquisition of Rashard Lewis and Van Gundy's freewheeling, up-tempo style have quickly turned it into an Eastern Conference contender. The Magic handed Boston its first loss of the season, and have won consistently on the road and hold a comfortable Southeast Division lead.
Meanwhile, Riley's Heat are at the bottom. The franchise suffered its first winless preseason, and didn't get much better when games started to count. With Dwyane Wade recuperating from offseason shoulder and knee surgery, Miami dropped its first five. It got so bad that after a 91-76 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, Riley suggested he suit up.
That doesn't fool Van Gundy.
``That's a legitimate team and Dwyane Wade makes all the difference,'' he said. ``I know because he made me look good for a couple of years. He turns the whole thing - he changes everything. He gives everyone confidence.''
Those two are also close. The All-Star's rookie year was Van Gundy's first as Heat coach, and Wade says it'll be strange to face him.
``We're going to hear some of the same things he used to say to us. It's going to be a challenge,'' Wade said. ``He's a guy who's very much in the game. When he's coaching, he feels like he's part of the game. He sweats like we sweat. He's very emotional and that's what makes him who he is.''
Riley calls his former protege one of the NBA's best coaches, and wouldn't let him go without a fight. After its aborted flirtation with Florida coach Billy Donovan, the Magic dealt the Heat a second-round pick and the option to swap 2008 first-round selections to spring Van Gundy from the last year of his contract.
Riley said the Magic worried him anyway, and they were only getting better. Orlando swept the Heat last season, three of the four wins by 10 points or more.
All NBA coaches are intense, but Riley and Van Gundy seem particularly consumed. The former Laker and Knicks coach remains on the sidelines at age 62, the league's third all-time winningest coach still looking for a few more. Van Gundy was so wrapped up in basketball he didn't visit the Orlando home his wife picked out before signing the papers.
Neither wants to make a big deal of the matchup.
``I don't think you can allow yourself for any reason in this league to put more importance on one game than another,'' Van Gundy said. ``It's something that's going to lead you to problems because they're only going to give you credit for one win every night.''
The rules among old friends, however, are different. Whoever gets that win Saturday will receive plenty of credit.
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.