The shorthanded Orlando Magic fell to the Miami Heat on Friday by a score of 97-108. This loss at the American Airlines Center kept Orlando winless on their current road trip, going 0-4 against the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Heat. With tonight’s loss, the Magic are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
It was a familiar third quarter collapse for the Magic, as the team would only manage 12 points in the period. A 12-0 run by the Heat would seal the Magic’s fate, as they weren’t able to get within 10 until the final seconds of the game
Hassan Whiteside was a difference maker for Miami, tying a career-high 26 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking five shots. While Whiteside was on the floor Magic centers were physically outclassed, allowing the big man to shoot 66 percent off of mostly dunks and alley-oops.
It was a bounce back game for the Heat, who came in following a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Their offense would start off in a rut, however, looking out of sync until the starters were off the floor. Whiteside made the impact early, abusing Jason Smith and Dewayne Dedmon for eight points in only five minutes. To their credit, the Magic hung tough – shooting 50 percent and grabbing six offensive rebounds. This fight would be epitomized in a last second buzzer beater by Evan Fournier, which gave the Magic a 31-28 lead.
The second quarter was the Andrew Nicholson show, as the Canadian forward lifted the Magic to an offensive stalemate with the fifth-place Heat. He would score 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, draining the Magic’s only three pointer of the half. Nicholson would finish with 19 points, limiting Whiteside’s effectiveness by making him leave the paint and defend the three-point line.
The third quarter was a futile performance across the board, as the Magic shot 20 percent while giving up 59 percent shooting to the Heat. They would have fewer free throws (3-6), rebounds (11-15), assists (2-9), and more turnovers (5-2) than Miami in the period. This quarter would overshadow an otherwise hard-fought game by an undermanned Orlando team.
"We just missed a lot of open shots and it cost us," said Elfrid Payton on the third quarter performance. "It [was] mostly jump shots and it was all long rebounds and they was just pushing it – pushing back at us".
The Magic would enter the fourth quarter down 16, making a comeback unlikely. Though the result was in hand, Scott Skiles would experiment with a new lineup that featured Nicholson as the lone big man. Though they would outscore the Heat in the period, it would be a case of too little too late.
The Magic’s three-point shooting was a cause of much grief during the loss, with the team going 1-of-8 through the first three quarters despite playing a smaller lineup. Though Brandon Jennings would light it up in garbage time, the Magic’s inability to hit from deep contributed to their inability to respond to the third quarter run.
Injuries would again play a factor for Orlando in this one, as the streaking Victor Oladipo sat out with soreness in his wrist. This would pave they way for rookie Mario Hezonja’s fifth start of the season – though he would struggle to find his shot. The Croatian swingman went 4-of-11 from the field with eight points and three fouls on the night.
"No…no more [moral] victories," said Payton when asked if the team could feel good about competing short handed
Big men Ersan Ilyasova and Nikola Vucevic would also be sidelined, leading to a size advantage for the forward-heavy Heat.
The Magic (29-43) return home to the Amway Center tomorrow to take on the Bulls on the second night of a back-to-back. With the season winding down, the Magic have six home games remaining.