Denton: A Win Over Heat Would Help Magic Forget About Thursday's Heartbreaker

By John Denton
Jan. 3, 2014

ORLANDO – Everything that could have gone wrong went horribly wrong for the Orlando Magic on Thursday night in a confounding overtime loss in Cleveland. Now, the Magic will be forced to try and pick up the pieces in time to face none other than the two-time defending champions.

Up 10 points with 94 seconds to play and still leading by seven points with 13.9 ticks remaining, Orlando allowed an unlikely series of events to unfold Thursday night that allowed Cleveland to tie up the game and win it 87-81 in overtime.

Even a day later, Magic veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo was still somewhat in disbelief at all that had transpired. The avalanche of errors still seemed unbelievable, Afflalo said while shaking his head.

``Five-second calls, fouls, I let my guy drive for a layup, missed free throws – I mean that’s how you erase a 10-point (deficit) in one minute,’’ Afflalo said frustratingly. ``Sometimes you capitalize on it, but it just wasn’t meant to be for us (Thursday).’’

The good news for the Magic, possibly in a twisted sort of way, is that they match up exceptionally well against the next opponent – the Miami Heat, who they will face on Saturday 7 p.m. at the Amway Center. When the two teams met on Nov. 23, LeBron James broke a 99-all tie with a game-winning jump shot in the final seconds. Two other times last season, Orlando took Miami to either overtime or the last possession of the night before the final outcome was decided.

Maybe, just maybe, the Magic (10-22) are seeing the Heat (24-8) at just the right time after coming off a heartbreaking, soul-crushing loss in snowy Cleveland.

``Obviously they’re a great team and the team that everybody wants to beat. They have the big bullseye and target on their back and we’re going to try to aim for it,’’ Nelson said of the Heat. ``Sometimes it’s like boxing where styles make good fights. We’re a team that’s scrappy and our wings are long and athletic and get to the rim. We just have to be smarter and do things different, especially down toward the end. Figuring out that last minute is part of the process of us figuring out how to win.’’

The process is clearly still a work in progress following Thursday’s fourth-quarter faltering. Orlando rebounded the ball well to compensate for the loss of injured center Nikola Vucevic (sprained ankle) and shared the ball beautifully most of the night, racking up 20 assists on the first 31 baskets.

That’s what made what transpired next even more shocking.

The offense ground to a halt and the decision-making grew sketchy over the final 94 seconds. There was the Anderson Varejao tip-in off a missed free throw and Nelson being called for a foul on a 3-point attempt that gave Dion Waiters three free throws. Said Nelson: ``I didn’t foul him. The ref thought it was a foul and he called the foul, but I didn’t foul him.’’

Seconds later, Orlando was whistled for a five-second violation when it couldn’t get a psss in bounds. Both head coach Jacque Vaughn and in-bounder Tobias Harris blamed themselves for not calling one of Orlando’s two remaining 20-second timeouts.

Orlando still had the chance to seal the victory, but E’Twaun Moore missed two free throws with 9.3 seconds remaining and the Magic up 79-77. Before those misses, Moore had made 19 of 21 free throws (90.5 percent). Vaughn put Moore into the game specifically hoping to in-bound the ball to him and have him at the free throw line.

``Without a doubt, we went small and statistically he was our best free throw shooter,’’ Vaughn said. ``And I’ll trust him again going up to the line.’’

Vaughn is hopeful that the Magic can get Vucevic back on Saturday against a smallish Heat team that he battered on the boards last season. Vucevic grabbed a franchise-record 29 rebounds against Miami last December and averaged more than 20 rebounds a game against the Heat last year.

Vucevic sprained his left ankle – the same one he injured in early December – and couldn’t play on Thursday in Cleveland. He traveled to Cleveland and tested the ankle before the game in hopes of playing, but couldn’t go. Orlando dropped to 0-5 this season when Vucevic is out.

Vaughn said he would forgo a usual film session on Friday because he didn’t want his team to have to re-live the fourth-quarter troubles once again. But he did plan to take the team out on the court to talk through various situations that should help it the next time in that situation.

But as for any possible hangover from the disappointing loss, Vaughn said it was time for his team to move on and bond closer together.

``Misery isn’t an option,’’ Vaughn said, forcing a smile. ``That’s on each individual player (to get over the loss). Sometimes painful things happen – that’s inevitable. But to get out of that is an option of yours. We’ll stay away from the misery and get ready to play Miami.’’