Around the Amway -- February 3, 2011
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
Just a few weeks ago, the Magic delivered one of the most awe-inspiring regular season memories in franchise history when two four-point plays helped lift them to a victory.
On Thursday, Orlando nearly completed something even more miraculous.
Trailing by 23 with a little less than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Magic – inch by inch – clawed back and had a chance to tie it with a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. But Ryan Anderson’s bomb from long distance rimmed off and the Miami Heat secured a 104-100 victory.
It’s easy to remember the ambitious comeback, but ultimately when the Magic watch film from the game they will see how much the Heat dominated them for most of the contest.
LeBron James delivered his finest effort since joining Miami with a season-best 51 points. He started the game 11-for-11 from the floor and finished 17-of-25. James also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out eight assists.
Jameer Nelson led Orlando’s furious fourth-quarter rally and concluded with a team-high 22 points, while Dwight Howard powered in 17 points and 16 rebounds in 48 minutes of action.
"The loss is frustrating, but we never stopped playing," Howard said.
Aside from their late-game eruption and scorching 3-point shooting during that stretch (12-of-33 in the game), curiosities will begin to surface about whether the Magic will try to make any upgrades as the trade deadline approaches.
While the first three quarters – which were a struggle for the Magic – may have just been an aberration and that Orlando may evolve as the season progresses some will wonder if the club needs to make another big move to solidify their contention to challenge for the NBA championship.
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He notched 17 points, 16 rebounds and one at-the-rim stuff of Miami’s Dwyane Wade.
But the most eye-popping statistic was in regards to Superman’s minutes on the court. He played every single minute.
“The guy played 48 freaking minutes with everyone around him and the whole thing,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “I’ve got nothing but praise for what he did tonight. I’ve got to give it to him for pulling a Wilt Chamberlin (and playing all 48 minutes).”
It marked the first time in Howard's career that he played all 48 minutes of a non-overtime game.
Smith said he thought the two-time MVP was “more of a competitor.” And Van Gundy referred to Bosh as Dwyane Wade's "lap dog."
Although most players claim they don’t pay attention to that sort of chatter, the self-proclaimed King took notice.
“We understand that this wasn’t just any regular game,” he explained. “There were a lot of things said about us during the offseason that came from within this organization."
Although James has the right to boast after a brilliant 51-point performance, he should be careful with his words. If Ryan Anderson’s three-point attempt didn’t rim out with 6.9 seconds left, their statement could have been the “Three Kings of Collapse.”
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While those curiosities from observers will probably last for the remainder of his career, James recognizes when it is time for him to deliver something scintillating, something extraordinary.
Whether he had an agenda to deflate one of the Heat’s blossoming rivals, the Magic, or not, LeBron carried his team with an awe-inspiring performance.
The seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time reigning MVP erupted for a season-high 51 points – his fifth highest scoring effort of his career. LeBron’s career-best scoring performance is 56 that he had against Toronto in 2005.
It was one of those performances where it didn't matter if he was wide open or had three defenders locked up on him. James was in the zone and practically nothing was going to prevent him from having a stellar game.
"He had excellent poise on the offensive end," Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said about James. "Attacking, balancing, facilitating, moving the ball, finding the open shooter."
With Dwyane Wade having an atypical off night – which hit a wall when he suffered a lower back injury early in the third quarter – it was imperative for James to be spectacular on a night when there seemed to be “magic” in the air at Amway Center.
Right from the get-go, LBJ couldn’t miss – hitting his first 11 shots of the game and finishing 17-of-25 from the field and 14-of-17 from the free throw line. He also had 11 rebounds and eight assists.
This was definitely not the performance from James that the Magic hoped they would see.
While, certainly, there is virtually no feasible way of determining whether they are capable of eliminating any of the other elite teams at this point of the season since there is still so much time remaining until the start of the playoffs, Smith will need to evaluate this roster in a couple of weeks when the trading deadline surfaces.
Thursday’s performance may have given the Magic general manager some indication whether this team is fine as is, needs minor tweaks or requires another major overhaul to confidently contend for an NBA championship this season.
What is clear is: the Magic have an assortment of top-notch 3-point shooters and can light it up in a hurry (ex. Thursday’s fourth quarter) and of course have the best interior player in the NBA (D12 posted 17 points and 16 rebounds against Miami).
But, they continue to not demonstrate a defensive intensity that San Van Gundy desires and lack a wing player that can relentlessly attack the rim and get to the free throw line.
Most reports – largely because Smith revealed at the time he finalized December’s deals with Phoenix and Washington that he would ultimately find a backup big man to Dwight Howard – suggest that Orlando will continue seeking extra help on the front line.
There are some who believe Otis still has desire to make another huge move and others who think he is content with the squad he has already assembled.
Any which way, Smith will probably evaluate who is available based on what has already transpired as the deadline approaches and try to make the best decision for the team.
The contest is filled with sensational storylines, ranging from Gilbert Arenas’ return to Washington to Rashard Lewis’ matchup with his former squad.
But the item on the agenda that most of Orlando will be focused on will be a sort of head-to-head battle between Arenas and Lewis.
Although the two league standouts play completely different positions and have entirely opposite roles, ultimately many hoops heads will be attempting to gauge which squad got the better end of the Agent Uno-Eagle Eye swap.
While making such a judgment based on one contest is irrational, truth be told their faceoff will have a lasting impact on Orlando watercooler discussions for the foreseeable future.
With his popularity among the Magic fanbase, there are many people already clamoring for the return of Lewis since the injury to Brandon Bass. Although that acquisition falls under the extremely unlikely category, the combination of the Orlando’s lack of frontcourt depth, coupled with Arenas’ tough transition to the team has the Magic faithful talking.
And you can see why. Lewis made a significant impact during his time here.
“Being objective, the biggest reason for (this organization’s) turnaround was Rashard,’’ Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Going from 40 wins and getting swept the year before he came (2006-07) to 52 wins and a playoff series win (in 2007-08) to 59 wins and the Finals (2008-09), the biggest difference was Rashard Lewis coming here. He changed everything.”
Now everyone is hoping that Arenas can overcome his rough start, help lift Orlando to that next step and aid the franchise in its quest for a championship.