The Miami Heat enter Monday's game against the Orlando Magic having won more games consecutively (26) than their opponent has, total, in over a year. The defending champions are chasing history, not to mention another title, as they look to break the Los Angeles Lakers' record of 33 straight wins, set in the 1971/72 season.
Orlando's played miserably for most of 2012/13, having lost 39 of its last 45 games after a 12-13 start, yet it's played Miami reasonably well, perhaps better than any other team. The Magic pushed the Heat to overtime on New Year's Eve before falling by two points, and Mimai needed a lefty layup from LeBron James with 3.2 seconds remaining earlier in March to put Orlando away at home. A huge factor in Orlando's strong play against its in-state rivals is center Nik Vučević, who has averaged 22.5 points and 25 boards on 60.6 percent shooting in the teams' two meetings so far. A concussion will almost certainly rule Vučević out for Monday's rematch, which puts the onus on his backup, the unheralded rookie Kyle O'Quinn, to fill the void.
Miami is vulnerable in the middle, as reasons beyond Vučević's big games against the Heat attest. Only six clubs grab a lower percentage of available rebounds than the Heat, and only six teams have a worse defensive rebounding percentage than Miami. According to mySynergySports.com, the Heat have given up 1.09 points per play on offensive rebounds, which puts ranks them 17th in the league.
Vučević's nose for the ball on the offensive boards, coupled with his long arms and soft touch around the rim, make him a threat to score immediately off any Orlando miss. That's true against any team, but especially against one as weak on the interior as Miami.
In limited minutes--O'Quinn has played less than one-fifth as much as Vučević in his rookie season--O'Quinn has proven that he has the rebounding chops to approximate the Montenegrin's. O'Quinn has rebounded 12 percent of available Magic misses when he's on the floor, a shade better than Vučević's 11.8 percent mark, and his overall rebounding rate of 18.9 percent isn't far off from Vučević's, which is 20 percent.
It goes without saying that the game is played between the lines, and not on paper, which is why one must regard O'Quinn's strong rebounding numbers with at least some degree of skepticism. After all, the Norfolk State product has played 139 of his 411 minutes with Orlando trailing by 16 points or more--in garbage time, in other words--whereas Vučević is matched up, by and large, against opposing teams' best players with games still in the balance. And it's not a given that O'Quinn will convert his putback chances on Monday night, even if he dominates the offensive glass the way Vučević has against Miami. When the game ends, it's almost certain that the likes of James and Dwyane Wade, if he plays, will have had a larger say in the outcome than the second-round draft choice from Queens.
O'Quinn nevertheless has a chance to put his stamp on Monday's game. The Magic are fortunate to have two young centers who can clean the glass, and with Vučević probably out, they'll need a big night from O'Quinn to have a hope of ending the Heat's pursuit of history.
But as long as O'Quinn is on the floor, active, and engaged, the Magic have a fighting chance against Miami. That's not bad for a team with little for which to to play but pride.