The Orlando Magic rallied from a 23-point first-half deficit to defeat the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, 104-100, to finish their preseason with a 1-1 record. New acquisition Glen Davis, playing his first Magic home game, energized his team and the crowd with a brilliant third quarter, scoring 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting. Heat forward LeBron James led all scorers with 27 points, while Dwyane Wade added 21.
The Magic's night got off to an inauspicious start, as they spotted Miami a 12-0 lead before scoring their first bucket. Orlando couldn't move the ball effectively against the Heat's defense during its dismal first half. They were even more inept at the other end, failing to adequately contain the James/Wade duo on their drives to the basket. To be fair, almost every team struggles to contain those two All-Stars, but very few teams yield 40 free throws in a single half, as Orlando did, regardless of the opponent.
But the game changed after halftime as the Magic found their proverbial mojo. Jameer Nelson, who finished with a solid 14 points and 10 assists for Orlando, repeatedly blew past counterpart Mario Chalmers and got into the teeth of Miami's defense, sending the Heat scrambling to recover; his aggressive play, coupled with Davis' acrobatic finishes around the rim, fueled the Magic's comeback effort. Nelson made on-target passes to the right teammates, and exploited the Heat's focus on center Dwight Howard by feeding Davis when Davis' man left to double Howard.
The defense picked up as well, which one might have been able to foresee despite Miami's parade to the foul line in the first half. The Heat made only two baskets in the second period, but hung 29 points on the board because Orlando couldn't keep its hands to itself. But when the Magic addressed that critical error, Miami struggled to generate offense consistently.
Davis and Nelson weren't Orlando's only pleasant surprises; veteran utility player Larry Hughes tallied four points, two assists, and two steals in his 10-minute debut for the Magic. With Nelson and normal backup Chris Duhon out of the game, coach Stan Van Gundy called upon the 6-foot-7 Hughes to run Orlando's offense, which he did well. Hughes' versatility enabled Van Gundy to play two shooting guards--J.J. Redick and rookie DeAndre Liggins--without killing his team's ball movement.
Liggins, though not as strong defensively as initially advertised, finished with four assists. Though known as a specialist in the Tony Allen mold, Liggins showed a strong understanding of Van Gundy's offense. His play suggests he might not be as much of an offensive liability as initially feared; his drive-and-dish move to set up fellow rookie Justin Harper for a three-pointer was particularly impressive.
Though it's risky to draw too many conclusions from a preseason game, it's nonetheless encouraging to see Orlando rally to play with great energy and togetherness, particularly during Davis' flurry of offensive brilliance. It's also heartening to see Nelson determined to wreak havoc with dribble penetration.