MIAMI -- Any conversation about a preseason game comes with the compulsory qualifier that it doesn't count. Preseason games usually aren't even that reliable in predicting the future.
But they certainly are revealing about the present, more than any practice or meeting or rhetoric-filled analysis usually is.
Sunday night, the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic played a game that didn't count but did speak. These are two teams with different attitudes right now and it oozed from the court. One of them seems as though it can't wait for the season to start. The other as though it's waiting for the hammer to drop.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade arrived at camp in startling shape and have started out looking like they were in rhythm, almost compelling their teammates to keep up. Dwight Howard is still on the Magic and apparently still attempting to act like a team captain but it comes with so much hypocrisy and lack of credibility that there's little wonder his team started the season with a rather epic dud.
The Heat were so much the better team, winning 118-85, playing with more urgency and energy. They shot the ball remarkably well, including their training camp free agents who are likely a few days from heading back to the D-League. The Magic shot the ball poorly and went through the motions during the second half, which turned embarrassing quickly as the Heat's third-string was running up the score on most of Orlando's frontline.
Some of those elements could easily flop around when these teams play again on Wednesday in the final game of this short preseason. But the Heat are still going to be itching to see Dallas on Christmas Day and the Magic are still going to come to work every day knowing their star wants to be rid of them as soon as possible. In between the details of how Sunday's game played out, those realities blared.
Howard played 30 minutes, went 2-of-9 shooting and had five points and six rebounds. If it had been a regular-season game, those stats would've been his worst in four years. Foul trouble caused the Heat to play three different men on him in just the game's first five minutes.
One of them, Dexter Pittman, is not yet in NBA shape and he struggled to keep up with the flow of the game at times, lagging behind the pack. Yet when they were on the floor together, Pittman clearly played with more intensity and aggression than Howard. He scored more points and had half of Howard's rebound total in 17 fewer minutes.
So it was a bad game for Howard. But it also begged the question of whether it was a message from a guy who has demanded repeatedly to be traded. The Magic currently are not in the mood to trade him; they've technically pulled him off the market.
"So, here's where we are: If he has a bad game, now it's going to be he's disengaged," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I mean that is b.s. That is after-the-fact stuff. I didn't think he was disengaged at all. He just didn't play real well."
Van Gundy could defend him all he wanted, but it was hard to take anything else away from what took place out on the floor. Neither Howard nor his teammates looked like they were very inspired by their situation.
During the fourth quarter, a group of rookies and training camp free agents plus Udonis Haslem rattled off a huge run against three Magic starters and top reserves Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick. During a timeout, veteran Quentin Richardson implored his teammates to wake up, pointing to the scoreboard and reminding them of who was the competition at the time. Howard, who had mercifully been pulled by that time, stood outside the huddle chewing on his shirt.
Afterward in the locker room he did speak, apparently.
"I told the guys we're in this together we're going to stay on the path to win a championship," Howard said. "Like I told the guys, at the present time we're all on the same team and we're all in this together. Until that changes, we should go out and play hard every night."
What exactly Howard's teammates were thinking as he talked like he was actually interested in being on the same path with them or that he's in it together with them was not available for public consumption. Just know that Howard has publicly demanded a trade away from these teammates twice since the start of training camp.
"[I'm] keeping the guys in line and not letting them lose focus of what we're trying to accomplish," Howard said. "I'm not really focused on [the trade] right now."
If his teammates aren't, it was hard to tell.
Overall, the Magic shot just 35 percent. Jameer Nelson was 0-of-10. Nelson got dressed quietly in the locker room next to Howard, who came over to him and slapped him on the back and reminded him they'd been through a lot in their eight years of playing together. This is actually the start of their eighth season and Howard, he has said over and over, doesn't want to finish it in Orlando. Nelson was quiet but, of course, he's well aware of this fact.
After everything the Heat went through last season, they couldn't be bothered with any of the Magic's issues. They'll have their own rough nights as the season moves along and in the NBA these days you can never predict when a superstar will demand a trade. But for now, the nature of their training camp is just as visible as the Magic's.
Only the Heat have been enjoying the relative calm and their focus showed. LeBron James made 9-of-14 shots to finish with 19 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes. Dwyane Wade was also smooth with 14 points, four rebounds and five assists. Chris Bosh was the best big man in the game with 14 points and five rebounds.
"We don't have much time," Bosh said. "We wanted to hit the ground running, we have been talking about that since training camp started."