Propelled by one of their best all-around team efforts in recent memory, the Orlando Magic dealt the Miami Heat their third straight loss, 104-95, Wednesday night. Jameer Nelson set a career-high with 14 assists and accounted for all of Orlando's points during a game-clinching, 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter. Great individual performances abounded: Dwight Howard tallied 24 points and 18 boards without committing a foul in what coach Stan Van Gundy termed a "fabulous" effort; Brandon Bass scored 18 points off the bench; and in his first start of the year, J.J. Redick contributed a season-high 20 points to go with 4 rebounds and 5 assists relieving the injured Vince Carter. The Heat's celebrated trio of Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade combined for 64 points, but no other Heat player scored more than 9 points. Additionally, Wade shot just 6-of-21 from the floor, doing most of his work from the perimeter.
The Magic corrected an offense that proved ineffective against Miami earlier this year, when they managed only 70 points and a franchise-low 5 assists. Van Gundy said "I thought our ball movement and our energy offensively was the best it's been all year," a statement one would be hard-pressed to refute. "We were always on the move, we never let them settle in as much defensively, and I thought that was key."
Orlando looked to attack Miami in the pick-and-roll, a key distinction from the teams' ugly first meeting. The entire team looked tentative that night, with far too many stagnant offensive sets. Tonight, "Jameer did a great job of attacking, trying to find spots in their defense to score our pass out to threes, or look inside," Howard said. Though assists are hardly the best measure of a team's offense, it's telling that Orlando recorded one on 24 of their 36 field goals. If nothing else, that stat indicates the Magic indeed accomplished their goal of keeping the ball, and the Heat's defenders, moving constantly. Van Gundy said his team made "a conscious effort to play with a great deal more energy, to move a lot harder, to move the ball from one side of the floor to the other, and to make [the Heat] move," which were lessons he learned from Orlando's 26-point loss to the Heat in October.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Orlando scored 104 points in a slow game despite just 6 three-pointers and a 26-of-39 mark at the free throw line. It shot a remarkable 30-of-51 on two-point baskets, including 14-of-23 on two-pointers outside the paint. Perhaps Miami can stomach losing when its opponent shoots such a high percentage on typically low-percentage shots, but then again, the Magic tended to get the sorts of looks they wanted. Redick said they turned the Heat's defensive aggression against them: "With how they close, they close really hard, and they pull to the ball side, and we got some good stuff when we played to the weak side."
Bass led all scorers at halftime, with 16 points. His contributions are impossible to overlook. "Brandon really carried us in the first half," Van Gundy said. "That was huge." Indeed it was. He shot 8-of-11 from the floor in 15 first-half minutes, and made his lone shot attempt in the second half. Nelson assisted on Bass' first two baskets, both dunks, which Bass said helped him get off to a solid start. "Anytime you can come into a game and your first bucket is a layp or a dunk," he said, "you're at ease, I would say. It's a lot better." Bass' 18 points tonight is just one shy of his best in a Magic uniform, as he scored 19 earlier this month against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Miami didn't lead at all in the second or third periods, but stormed back early in the fourth period, with scores on 7 of its first 9 possessions, taking an 88-87 lead on Wade's three-point play at the 6:48 mark. At that point, though, the Magic's defense stiffened once more and turned the Heat into an ineffective, jump-shooting group despite the presence of James and Wade, two of the league's most dynamic drivers. On their next nine trips, the Heat scored 1 point and took 7 jumpers; Bass fouled Bosh on a layup attempt for Miami's only point during that span, and Bosh fumbled away a lob pass in what proved to be the Heat's only inside shot attempt. Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed two open pick-and-pop looks, Wade and Eddie House missed three three-pointers, and Wade and James missed two long two-point tries. It's important to note, though, that one of House's threes came after Nelson batted away an attempted alley-oop pass, a play which doesn't show up in the stat sheet but nonetheless affected the game in a major way. Also important: at no point in the fourth quarter did Orlando permit Miami any second looks, as it grabbed all 12 available defensive rebounds. For the entire fourth, the Heat's offense was one-and-done, a huge coup for the Magic.
And after this stretch of poor Miami jump-shooting, the game was hardly in doubt. James broke the streak of poor shooting with an aggressive, driving layup to bring Miami within 6 points with 1:43 to play, and Nelson kept the door open for a Heat comeback by missing two free throws. Then, Joe Crawford whistled James for stepping on the endline while probing the Magic's defense, a costly turnover with 1:19 to play and James' team trailing, though replays showed James never stepped or dribbled out of bounds on the play. Orlando sealed the win with a series of foul shots the rest of the way.
Which isn't to say the game was drama-free. Referee Marat Kogut ejected Nelson for his second technical with 39 seconds to play before Nelson could shoot two more free throws. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra selected Marcin Gortat to take the shots in Nelson's absence, but Gortat swished both. Van Gundy called attention to the impact Gortat's makes had on the game, noting that the atmosphere in the arena and Miami's bench would have been far different had he missed. Gortat's makes were "outstanding," Van Gundy concluded.
I'd be remiss to omit Rashard Lewis' name from this recap. He scored a modest 14 points, but did so in only 29 minutes while shooting 5-of-10 from the floor. He appears to have worked his way out of whatever slump bothered him in the early part of the season.
The bottom line tonight is that the Magic appear to have found a winning formula to use against the Heat, one predicated on ball movement, player movement, dribble penetration, and rebounding. It certainly looks repeatable and sustainable, so long as Orlando continues to execute at a high level. That's good news for a team that looked hopelessly overmatched against this same opponent less than a month ago, and indicates significant progress.