[Orlando, FL] The month of February has been very good to the Orlando Magic.
Riding a three-game win streak into Wednesday’s game against in-state rivals the Miami Heat, the team is enjoying a somewhat unexpected wave of momentum after a disastrous January.
During the black abyss of January, the team went from top of their division to dwelling near the bottom and reeling from inner conflict and poor play, most likely due to the impending trade doom of franchise player Dwight Howard.
During this stretch, Howard was having none of it.
“I’ve been playing hard every night. Everybody else has to have that same attitude,” said Howard. “If you don’t want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don’t make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us. … I want to win a championship.”
“I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard,” he said famously.
Well, someone must have listened to what Howard said, because the fire is back, even if it is only a flicker. Or is it?
Photo: NBA/Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was ready for the Miami Heat
And for the Heat, the pressure has been on that team to win and win big, as they are the chosen ones to go the distance this year. But the lockout-shortened season has thrown a curveball into their plans. With so many games being played in such a short amount of time, the Miami Heat have tired legs.
The team has superstars for sure, but they are aging – not old – but aging, and those legs need a rest. Their recent elongated home stand may have given them a false sense of satisfaction going into tonight’s in-state contest against a suddenly confident Orlando team.
And now that the Magic has resumed its winning ways, a home court test against the mighty Miami Heat is just what the doctor ordered. If they pass the physical, they are officially on the mend. If they fail against their in-state rivals and projected champs, they could be back to doubting their very existence on the basketball planet.
Or something like that.
Orlando certainly had their work cut out for them facing a Heat team averaging 103.2 points of offense per game versus their own, near-pathetic 92.2 ppg. That’s not the stuff of trophy hoisting.
Not to mention the potent scoring of Miami’s Big 3: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh which average almost 70 points per game combined. In contrast, the Magic’s starting five only manage somewhere in the mid-fifties. But the O-Towners have a better bench.
Seems like a game is in order …
Photo: Orlando Magic
In-state rivals Orlando Magic hosted the Miami Heat
The Orlando Magic started off strong on the boards. They also weren’t afraid to launch threes. Jameer Nelson even attacked the basket to full effect, but that was short-lived as the Heat quickly clamped down on penetration (it would be a long time before Nelson did much of anything in the game).
Nonetheless, the Magic quickly went up 7-0 causing the Heat to call a time-out. Miami responded by going on a 6-0 run.
The building reigned down boos on Miami Heat superstar LeBron James as he stepped to the line for the first time. There were a lot of red jerseys in the crowd, for sure, but they were drowned out by the hometown blue and white.
With 7:21 to go in the first Ryan Anderson already has 7 points and a great hustle play. He really has developed into a complete player. Except for free throws, that is – he missed three in the quarter causing the team to shoot something like 25%.
Meanwhile, Howard was struggling to keep hold of the ball, but cleaned up a lot of shots and was rocking the scoreboard with 8 points with 4:19 to go. But his team’s defense was impressive in keeping the boys from Miami to sub-20 scoring.
Not much was going on for the Heat in the quarter, even though they managed to stay close. Howard and Anderson combined to score 17 of the 26 points scored by Orlando.
At the end of the first quarter the score was Orlando Magic 26, Miami Heat 18.
At the 9:29 mark in the second, the Magic pushed the lead to 36-23 on some championship-caliber play. But you know the Heat can turn it on at any moment. But will they?
Photo: Orlando Magic
Ryan Anderson scorched the Miami Heat
The Magic started draining threes and the couldn’t can’t keep up. At the 6:37 mark, the Magic’s second-teamers started to get sloppy and James & Co. pounced, cutting a 17-point lead to 13. Howard came back in to put a stop to all of that.
Is it just me or is LeBron one of the whiniest players in the league? He expects to get every call.
The Magic cooled somewhat – except for Anderson who is 5 for 6 from outside the 3-point line and has 8 rebounds at this point in the game – and the Heat are sparking. D-Wade is getting it going. And that is an understatement.
The Miami comeback didn’t really begin until around 4 minutes left in the 2Q. Miami went on a 12-2 run with every point coming from Wade.
Just before halftime the Heat cut the Magic lead to 7. Then 3.
At the half, the Magic were up 53 to 50. Wade finished the first half with an incredible 22 outmatched only by Anderson’s incredible 24.
A back and forth battle for the first half of the third quarter kept it tight, although Orlando kept a lead. The Heat were expected to make another run and eventually take control. However, everything fell apart for Miami.
At 5:44 it was Orlando 61, Miami 56. Miami looked really tired after last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE
Miami Heat superstar LeBron James had an off night in Orlando
Bosh was eerily quiet and Wade cooled considerably. In fact, everyone on the floor was missing shots during this stretch. Who will get it going?
The Magic, apparently. At the 4:07 mark Orlando pushed the lead back to 11. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is simply a monster with his back to the basket.
The Magic were quicker at this point in the game, but would they be able put some distance between them and the Heat? Davis says yes, pouring in his second bucket in muscle-ly fashion. Back-up Magic PG Chris Duhon made a crucial shot-clock three. And just like that, the lead was back to 17.
The Magic ended up outscoring the Heat 24-11 in the third quarter.
The fourth started with the Orlando Magic up big. The Miami Heat tried to pound back but just didn’t seem to have it in them. Miami got within 9 points with about 4 minutes left but the Magic busted the lead wide open, eventually putting the nail in the proverbial coffin.
Final score: Orlando Magic 102, Miami Heat 89.
The home crowd got the victory that they were looking for and there was much jubilation. Even from the celebrities in the building, who were flashed up on the big screen “Celebrity Cam.” First up: Jack Nicholson. Then Bruce Willis. Then Kevin Bacon. Then Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Jack (Lakers) and Jay-Z (Nets) must be in town trying to convince Howard to come play for their teams. Willis actually might have been hiding out from Demi Moore or looking to get Dwight into the next Die Hard flick as a villain (he seems to fill that role nicely these days).
And Bacon? He and his wife lost a sizable chunk of change to Bernie Madoff in his giant Ponzi scheme, so he must have been looking for a loan or a new financial adviser. Or changing everyone-in-the-building’s status in the Kevin Bacon game.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate. Additional reporting by Michael Tristani II/Sunshine Slate
Lead photo: Orlando Magic