Stan Van Gundy's tenure as head coach of the Miami Heat ended before their championship run, creating unresolved questions about why his departure was necessary in the first place.
Van Gundy, who has quickly turned the Orlando Magic into a contender in the Eastern Conference, will compete with former mentor Pat Riley and the Heat for the first time in the regular season Saturday night.
Van Gundy worked under Riley for 12 years with the Heat, including two seasons as head coach when he barely missed an NBA Finals appearance in 2005. He resigned 21 games into 2005-06, when Riley returned to the sideline and led the Heat to their first NBA title.
Both sides insist the decision was mutual even though Van Gundy went 112-73 (.605), which is still the franchise's best winning percentage. Van Gundy took over as coach for Orlando (11-3) this past offseason, and has so far shown that his success with the Heat wasn't a fluke as the Magic have the second-best record in the East.
Miami (3-9), meanwhile, remains in last place in the Southeast Division despite an impressive 98-91 win over Houston on Friday night.
Although he knows the Heat better than almost anyone, Van Gundy says this matchup won't feel different.
"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."
Van Gundy has been winning with an up-tempo style coupled with the interior presence of All-Star forward Dwight Howard. The bolstered Orlando lineup also features newcomer Rashard Lewis.
Lewis, second on the team with 19.9 points per game, was held to 12 on 4-for-12 shooting against Charlotte on Friday night. But Howard had 34 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks and three steals to lead the Magic to a 105-92 win.
Orlando has won a franchise-high five straight games against Miami, with Howard averaging 17.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in that span.
The Magic won all four games against the Heat last season, holding them under 70 points twice and to an average of 80.8 for the series. Miami's Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, however, each missed three of those four games.
Wade, a rookie in Van Gundy's first season as Heat coach, says it will be strange to see him on the court again.
"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."
Wade is coming off his best effort since coming back, scoring a season-high 31 points and adding five assists against the Rockets. Miami is now 2-3 since Wade's return.
O'Neal has begun to pick up his play. He set season highs with 26 points and 14 rebounds in Friday's contest, two days after registering 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in a loss to Atlanta.
"Guys were getting me the ball in a position where I can do something," O'Neal said Friday. "It was a good game for us, a must win."
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited