Magic 99 - HEAT 96 Recap

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MIAMI – Not only was Thursday night’s 99-96 loss to the Orlando Magic unfortunately familiar, it was also the harshest example of a particularly haunting trend.

Gain a big lead. Lose the lead. Lose.

“We continue to get big leads and we continue to falter,” LeBron James said.

Four days after a similar experience with the New York Knicks – going up double digits with a marvelous first quarter – the HEAT came out Thursday blazing. James and Dwyane Wade, on a series of earned jumpers, put up 23 and 24, respectively, in the first half as Miami took an 18-point lead at the break and as great as a 24-point lead in the third quarter.

To that point, with the defense as strong as it had been all season, the offense, though jumper-heavy, was where it needed to be. Quick decisions were made, the ball moved and everyone was involved. Miami had to rely on a few incredible plays from its perimeter duo, but the principles remained in place.

Slowly but surely, those principles were lost, entangled in a messy, 17-point third quarter that seemingly began with a three-minute scoring drought at the 8:56 mark – a stretch featuring four missed jumpers and a pair of missed free-throws from Wade. Inside-out passing became slow-developing pick-and-rolls and ball movement became isolation play as the offense turned into the first or second person to touch the ball trying to make an individual play.

“We just collapsed and we weren’t the aggressor,” Chris Bosh said.

And when the HEAT tried to recoup their losses and attack, Dwight Howard was there to meet them in the lane again and again. With Howard, the Magic essentially trapped both James and Wade the moment they took a dribble in the direction of the basket. Whether the result was an over-abundance of hero-ball or their 63.2 first-half shooting percentage simply regressing to the mean, Orlando pounced on the opportunity they created, and the HEAT allowed.

Granted, the Magic aren’t likely to hit 16-of-29 from three again anytime soon, but matters were made easier with a good number of open looks. Orlando sucked the HEAT’s defense in with penetration, and for possession after possession, someone was left open, most commonly Jason Richardson (24 points, 6-of-8 from deep).

Outside of a crazy possession or two in the final minutes – Bosh and James each missing a three on the final play with a chance to tie – the loss was as cut and dry as that. The HEAT, again, lost its way on offense after building a lead and the Magic combined hot shooting, stifling defense and consistently fundamental basketball plays to not only come back from 24 down, but take a seven-point lead.

On shock value alone, it was a staggering loss. But the initial, emotional take is always fleeting. What’s left is making sense of what Wade called mind-boggling, and using it.

“If you experience something like this and you’re not getting the result you want, it’s frustrating,” Erik Spoelstra said.

“The most important thing is, right now, we have to continue to prime the pump and push forward.”

As unpopular as the sentiment may be, it may turn out to be a helpful experience. Trends such as this tend not to sustain over long periods for teams that have proven to be otherwise capable of winning, and when things begin going Miami’s way again on the court, the memory of this stretch could, at the very least, be a motivating, and painful, reminder of the other side.

“You got to go through this growing pain, and it sucks,” Wade said. “Maybe it five weeks we’ll look back on this and say, ‘That’s what it was for.’”