You never want to make too much out of one November game, especially since Wade is still working his way back and might not be as ready for a back-to-back as he'll be in March, not to mention the fact that veteran teams usually have the last laugh in budding rivalries. That said, the most alarming aspect of this encounter was the lack of intensity the Heat showed in a statement game that had special significance for their esteemed coach.
The Magic shot better than 60 percent in the first half and finished at 56 percent for the game. The 120 points they scored were the fourth-highest total allowed by a Riley-coached Heat squad since he took over for Van Gundy in December 2005.
It wasn't like Van Gundy was taking a page out of the Bill Belichick handbook and running up the score. The Magic put up just 12 points in the final five minutes, missed 11 of their 39 free throws and a bunch of wide-open 3-pointers down the stretch.
The Heat played absolutely no defense, despite O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning, once two of the most feared big men in the league, supposedly patrolling the paint. It's hard not to notice how massive O'Neal is, especially when standing side-by-side next to Howard. Shaq makes the new king of East big men look small by comparison and helped hold him to just seven field goal attempts.
However, Howard didn't need to shoot to control the paint, dominating through his presence alone the way O'Neal has for 15 years, using the attention defenses pay to him by kicking it out and relying on his teammates to move the ball and take advantage. That's what Riley sees as Orlando's greatest strength, the attribute Van Gundy has best cultivated in his first month in charge.
"He's done a great job. I'm not surprised at that, him being able to look at what his personnel was and developing a system," Riley said. "We were very familiar with what they do defensively, but offensively is where they've really benefited from what he's brought to the table for them."
Does he regret letting Van Gundy go to a division rival that seems to have overtaken his Heat? At this point, that's the least of the veteran Miami head coach's problems. Between worrying about Wade's health, O'Neal's wear and tear and this 3-10 start, Riley has enough on his plate.