Denton: Magic Hope to End Heat's Amazing Streak

By John Denton
March 24, 2013

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic head into Monday night’s showdown with the surging Miami Heat knowing that one way or the other – win or lose – they will be at the forefront of the national sports news on Tuesday.

Win and the Magic will have ended Miami’s improbable 26-game winning streak just shy of the all-time record of 33 straight victories set by 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Lose and the Magic could eventually go down as a footnote in the history books if Miami ultimately surpasses the Lakers’ 41-year-old record for consecutive wins. ``Hopefully we’re leading (ESPN’s) SportsCenter the right way,’’ Magic rookie center Kyle O’Quinn said. ``Hopefully we’re leading it ending the streak.’’

Tipoff will be just after 7 p.m., and the atmosphere figures to be electric inside the Amway Center. A record-setting crowd 19,311 witnessed the Magic and Heat’s first game in Orlando this season, and Monday’s crowd could be even bigger. ESPN will also televise the game nationally, while Fox Sports Florida will televise the game exclusively on a local basis.

``The number one team in the NBA is coming to town. With the loyal fans that we have mixed with the fans who want to see the Heat, it’s going to be live in there,’’ O’Quinn said. ``With them trying to make their streak longer and us trying to break it, the level is going to be high. We’re ready for it.’’

Miami (55-14) has not lost since suffering a 102-89 defeat at Indiana on Feb. 1. The Heat went into Sunday night’s game in Charlotte winning by an average of 10.64 points a game with 14 of the victories coming by double digits and only six of them being by five points or less. During the streak, Miami has beaten Philadelphia three times and Atlanta, Cleveland and Charlotte twice apiece. Orlando (18-52) must win to avoid becoming the fifth team with multiple losses during the streak.

Magic point guard Jameer Nelson knows a thing or two about a long winning streak, having played on the 2003-04 St. Joe’s team that started the season 27-0 before losing to Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament. Nelson said he has tremendous admiration for the Heat’s streak because, as NBA defending champions, they have to face teams that are locked into trying to topple them on a nightly basis.

``It’s impressive because they are getting every team’s best shot and they have been winning in different ways – close games, blowing teams out and having great comebacks,’’ Nelson said. ``It will be a good challenge for us. We’ve played them twice and played them pretty good so we’ll see what happens.’’

Who better to challenge the supremacy of the Heat than a Magic team that has twice taken Miami to the brink this season? Miami’s streak very well could have died at 16 games on March 6 if the Magic would have been able to hold a five-point lead in the final minutes and a one-point advantage in the final seconds. The Magic had three players foul out down the stretch, and the Heat survived when superstar forward LeBron James converted a game-winning layup with 3.2 seconds remaining.

``Guys had fought so hard, not like they hadn’t throughout the rest of the year, but we were one possession away from getting a win,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of losing to Miami earlier this month. ``For me as a coach, I self-evaluated as to whether I could have done something different to help my guys out? It was a one-possession game, LeBron makes a shot and the streak continues.’’

That heart-breaking result for the Magic followed a 112-110 overtime loss to the Heat on Dec. 31 before the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Orlando. In that game, Orlando led by as much as 11 points in the second half and was ahead by four with 67 seconds to play. Chris Bosh ultimately tied it up with two layups down the stretch, and James won it with 10 of his 36 points in overtime.

James’ efforts in the two meetings helped the Heat overcome a rebounding onslaught by Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who has 50 rebounds and 20 offensive boards in two games this season against Miami. In the first meeting, Vucevic broke Shaquille O’Neal’s 19-year-old franchise record with 29 rebounds (11 offensive boards). And in the March 6 meeting, Vucevic hauled in another 21 rebounds (nine offensive), while also scoring 25 points.

Orlando will most likely be without Vucevic, who suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. Vucevic, who missed the past two games and did not practice on Sunday, is subject now to the NBA’s protocol for head injuries and he must pass a series of tests and be cleared by an independent neurologist before he will be allowed to return to game action.

O’Quinn, the Magic’s blossoming rookie center, will mostly likely start in place of Vucevic and attempt to rebound just as well against the smallish Heat. O’Quinn set career highs in points (12), rebounds (14) and assists (four) on Wednesday in New York. He followed that up with 11 points and nine rebounds on Friday in the first start of his NBA career.

O’Quinn is hoping that, like Vucevic, he can take advantage of a Miami front line that often features power forward Chris Bosh at center and small forwards Shane Battier and James at the power forward position.

The Magic’s chances at upsetting the Heat also could be further dampened by another injury. Orlando also will not have veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who strained his hamstring in Friday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Afflalo landed awkwardly while trying to avoid a diving Nick Collison and strained the back of his leg. He won’t play in the final 12 games of the regular season as he works to heal his hamstring.

``(The Heat) are one of the best teams in the NBA, like we all know, so we have to come out as a team and play hard,’’ O’Quinn said. ``Without Nik and without Arron we’re definitely taking a hit. But we have to rally around one another and put a collective effort forward. And if rebounding is what (the Heat) lack, maybe we can exploit that.’’

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