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Miami Heat 96, Orlando Magic 70

The Orlando Magic failed to impress in their first opportunity to face the Miami Heat this season, falling soundlessly and decisively by a 96-70 final. Dwight Howard led Orlando with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and knocked in three jumpers, but managed just 7 rebounds and fouled out. And that's where the bright spots end for Orlando. Starting forwards Quentin Richardson and Rashard Lewis combined for 4 points on 0-of-14 shooting and 3 turnovers; the Magic shot 30.3 percent from the field, the ninth-worst figure in team history; and finished with a franchise-worst 5 assists. Miami opened the second half with a 14-0 run, sparked by three consecutive treys from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, to take control of the game for good. The biggest issue for Orlando came at the offensive end. If Howard wasn't scoring with his back to the basket--initially, I wrote "in the post" here, but he never managed to get decent position--the team wasn't scoring, period. The Heat yielded nothing to the Magic, which launched contested two-point jumper after contested two-point jumper, with predictably poor results. And while it's too early to draw too many meaningful conclusions, it's hard to feel positive about anything Orlando accomplished tonight.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 79.3 33.3% 34.8 17.8 18.5
Heat 87 110.0 46.3% 25.9 30.4 13.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's 2009/10 average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's 2009/10 average.

Credit Miami's excellent defense, but some of the blame does, I think, go to the Magic themselves. When the Heat ramped up the defensive pressure, the Magic responded by passing the ball around the perimeter; their offense, at times, resembled a game of hot potato, with the loser having to hoist a jumper off the bounce just before the buzzer sounded. Orlando couldn't, or wouldn't, reverse the ball to the weak side or create open shots. Period. Magic assistant Brendan Malone told Fox Sports Florida reporter Paul Kennedy at halftime that getting those ball reversals would be a key in the second half, so it's clearly a point the Magic discussed at intermission, but they didn't execute. And Howard, however effective, can't carry an offense by himself, which is why Magic Insider Brian Schmitz has suggested the team needs to find him a legitimate superstar sidekick, via trade, to bolster their championship chances.

Vince Carter is the Magic's go-to, shot-creating wing, but finished just 1-of-5 on the night. He trended on Twitter tonight, but for all the wrong reasons, leaving the game in the second quarter after Miami's Udonis Haslem fell on top of him. Carter lay on the floor for several minutes before retreating to the locker room with back spasms, which people on the internet find funny, given Carter's reputation for lingering on the court due to injuries. He returned to play in the second half, but his services were only needed for 3 minutes. The game got out of hand, and coach Stan Van Gundy turned to J.J. Redick--who needed 7 stitches under his right eye after taking a charge from James--at shooting guard.

Van Gundy tried a lot of tricks with his lineup, going for Redick and Brandon Bass with Carter and Lewis struggling mightily, shifting Bass to center to get more scoring on the floor with Howard out due to foul trouble, but nothing worked.

Miami adhered to the philosophy that helped the Boston Celtics upset the Magic in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. Even with Howard chewing up his centers and spitting them out, coach Erik Spoelstra refused to send double-team help his way. Too much standing around and watching Howard work tonight for Orlando, but in defense of that strategy, it's not like anyone else did anything to merit more touches.

And one could hardly blame the Magic for wanting to watch Howard go to work, because he was brilliant for most of the game. He settled for some of those jumpers--under no circumstances should he take a jump-shot with the immobile Zydrunas Ilgauskas checking him--but his work in the paint and his touch with either hand really stood out. He even faked an inside pivot into the paint before spinning the other direction and trying to bang a hook in off the glass, drawing a foul in the process. This is a guy who, not even a year ago, told Trey Kerby of Yahoo! Sports, "I think people have the misconception that you have to have a lot of moves in the post. For a player like myself, it's just one move and a counter on both blocks." And now he's showing moves like that? Holy mackerel.

The Magic finished the game shooting 57.2 percent at the rim, according to The percentage isn't the problem; it's the number of attempts. Just seven dunks, layups, or tip-in attempts for the Magic tonight, and that counts Ryan Anderson's trio of garbage-time chippies. In contrast, Orlando took 31 shots from 10 feet to the three-point line, making 10. And they shot 4-of-24 on threes. There's your ballgame.

Actually, there are a lot of "there's your ballgame" stats about tonight's action, which is worrisome. Chalk it up to the Magic's being on a second night of a back to back if you like, but really, there's nothing to suggest things would have been significantly different with rest. I'm not reaching for the panic button yet. It's not even Halloween, and the Magic have played by 96 minutes. But I indeed invite you to tell me what went right, from your perspective. Because from here? Um...

A series of questions dogged the Magic all summer, coming off their loss to the Celtics. A meaner streak from Howard, a more physically fit Carter, and some additions to the playbook were meant to answer them. Yet after this loss, they still linger.