The Orlando Magic are about to begin their 25th season, yet it's difficult to pinpoint which opponent stands as their biggest rival. Sure, it's easy to name teams Magic fans dislike more than others, but rivalry goes beyond mere dislike.
My own opinion is that a rivalry isn't a rivalry unless the enmity is shared; to use an NBA example, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers would likely name the Los Angeles Lakers as their team's most significant rival, but fans of the Lakers probably don't give a rip about the Clippers at all. Thus, as I see it, the Lakers and Clippers aren't truly rivals. The Lakers and the Boston Celtics? Now there's a bloody rivalry.
I've narrowed the Magic's rivalry possibilities to five teams: the Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and Lakers. Whether the feeling from other teams' fans is mutual isn't exactly clear. Here's the case for each team, in no particular order:
L.A. knocked off the Magic in their most recent Finals trip in 2009, just the second Finals appearance in franchise history. Further, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, the only franchise centers Orlando has ever known, made L.A. their destination after leaving the Magic. O'Neal joined the Lakers as a free agent in 1996, while Orlando acquiesced to Howard's trade request by dealing him to L.A. in July.
The Magic's head-to-head record against the Lakers is 14-32 (.304), their worst head-to-head record against any team in the league.
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Like the Lakers, Houston is responsible for one of Orlando's playoff defeats, sweeping it out of the 1995 Finals. And like the Lakers, the Rockets benefitted from a Magic superstar's dissatisfaction, having acquired two-time scoring champion Tracy McGrady from Orlando in 2004.
Orlando has a head-to-head record of 25-22 against the Rockets in regular-season play.
Perhaps no team in the league has had the Magic's number quite like Detroit, despite the Lakers' superior head-to-head record. The Pistons have bounced the Magic from the postseason four times, while the Magic have yet to return the favor. Further, Detroit won its first 14 head-to-head meetings with the Magic. Orlando's all-time record against the Pistons stands at 36-49 (.424), its lowest against any Eastern team.
Miami is a geographical and division rival for Orlando, and began NBA play just one season before the Magic did, so the two teams will draw comparisons to one another as a matter of course. Hurting the Heat on this front is the fact that there's not much postseason history between the teams, as the Heat knocked Orlando out of the playoffs in their lone playoff series against one another in 1997.
The Magic have a respectable 44-47 (.484) head-to-head record against the Heat in regular-season play.
Orlando is 2-1 in postseason series against Boston, but the "1" in that record may hurt Magic fans more than the "2" cheers them. The Celtics upset the Magic in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, abruptly ending what had been a brilliant run by Orlando: counting the first two rounds of the playoffs that season, the Magic had won 31 of their last 36 games.
Though Boston is a storied franchise with a clear top rival--that'd be the Lakers--there's reason to believe the enmity between the two fanbases may be mutual. "Boston Garden is now closed," O'Neal said, rather famously, after the Magic eliminated the Celtics in 1995, ending Boston's tenancy in the storied venue. Orlando also overcame a 3-2 series deficit in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals to upset the Celtics, which upset included a decisive Game Seven win in Boston.
I now pose this question, Magic fans: which team do you consider to be Orlando's biggest rival? Please vote in the poll below.