TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn’t fair to the 17,000-plus fans who had tickets and it wasn’t good for those who wanted to tune in for what had the makings of nice preseason battle on ESPN. But from a drama standpoint, the Heat and Magic having to put off their first meeting until the real thing next Friday was fantastic.
Because of an oily substance that was used to polish the rarely-used basketball floor at the St. Pete Times Forum, Friday’s final preseason game for both the Magic and Heat was canceled. It was technically the Heat’s home game but NBA officials made the final call after getting reports that some areas of the surface were still unsafe after a full day of clean-up attempts.
There were refunds issued -- which was hard to swallow for some who likely bought top seats from scalpers -- and apologies from officials.
Outside of getting a final tune-up, it didn’t seem like the teams truly minded waiting to face off until next week. They sized each other up out on the court during light warmups and former Heat player and current Magic guard Quentin Richardson stopped by the locker room to see some old friends, but generally neither might have preferred not having to put any cards on the table at this point.
The Heat were faced with playing on a back-to-back and not at full strength against a Magic team that has been throttling their opposition by nearly 25 points a game in the preseason. After LeBron James and Chris Bosh both played nearly 40 minutes Thursday in Atlanta, neither were going to get full minute loads Friday. That may have allowed the Magic to send a message as they planned to play full go as usual.
So in a way it resembled two heavyweights at a weigh-in, some playful banter and some stares with the result just ratcheting up the interest in the main event.
“I say we should go to an outdoor court, call your own [fouls] and let’s go,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy joked.
And it was a joke because the Magic surely went. Players dressed and bolted from the building even before there was a public announcement that the game was off. Orlando’s buses were back home before the Heat could even leave on their plane, which they had to wait to fly in earlier than expected.
“It’s unfortunate and a highly unusual circumstance that the NBA deems the court unsafe,” Heat coach Erik Spolestra said, upset he’d already gotten into his suit before the game was called. “We wanted to play tonight and have an opportunity to grow as a team but also to show the fans here our much we have progressed.”
That is true but the Heat don’t mind waiting. Especially because Dwyane Wade re-joined the team after a week away to attend his sons’ custody hearings in Chicago. Way more important that jabbing with the Magic Friday are the practices Sunday and Monday as Wade gets some valuable court time before the opener.
He vowed he’d play against the Celtics on Tuesday, saying not only was his hamstring healthy but his mind is uncluttered.
“It’s a big burden off me; I did appreciate the opportunity to go into the courtroom and for the first time let my voice be heard,” Wade said. “I’m not really a guy who will go back and forth and say stuff in the media but I got my opportunity to tell my side. So that was great."