Denton: Magic-Heat Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
February 3, 2011


ORLANDO – Down to just 11 healthy bodies because of various bumps and bruises and down 23 points with 7 minutes to play to the arch-rival Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic looked very much like a broken basketball team late Thursday night.

And for good reason after LeBron James had rained in jump shots from all corners of the Amway Center and the Magic had one jumper and free throw after another miss most of the night.

But when James finally pouring in the points and the Magic started making a few shots of their own, they impossibly and incredibly had a try to tie in the final seconds. But when that shot didn’t go down, the Magic ultimately did in a manner few expected.

A furious, fighting fourth-quarter rally allowed the Magic to save face, but it didn’t allow them to save a victory. Instead, the Heat were able to escape the Amway Center with a 104-100 victory and a dazzling one-man performance from James.

James registered his first 50-point effort in a Miami uniform, pouring in 51 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out eight assists. But what had to leave the sellout crowd buzzing was Orlando’s stunning climb back into contention, one that went from 23 points to three in a matter of minutes.

But Ryan Anderson couldn’t connect on a 25-footer with 6.9 seconds to play, ending the rally and forcing the Magic to contemplate what might have been had their spirited play started earlier in the night.

``It wasn’t one of those phone comebacks where we’re down 23 and we just close it to eight; we had a shot to tie the game,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``And considering that we had no timeouts and the way executed and got a great look, you have to take that. I’m not happy with the way we played the rest of the game, but the comeback was good and legit.’’

The Magic (31-19) got double-figure scoring production from five players, but not nearly enough to offset the 17 of 25 shooting night from James. He also made three of five 3-pointers and 14 of 17 free throws for the eighth 50-point performance of his career. James did plenty of trash-talking during and after the game, saying that facing the Magic motivated him.

``Just playing this team got me going,’’ James said. ``We understand that it wasn’t just any regular season game. There were a lot of things said about us in the offseason that came from this organization. So we just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and make a statement.’’

Miami (35-14) now holds a 4.5-game lead on the Magic in the standings and a 2-1 lead in the season series. The two teams play a final time in South Florida on March 3.

``I’m pretty sure when we see those guys again it will be a lot different. And we’ll see those guys in the playoffs, too,’’ said Magic franchise center Dwight Howard, who had 17 points, 16 rebounds and played all 48 minutes, but scored just one point in the second half.

Here is a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Thursday’s nationally televised game between the Magic and Heat:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Jameer Nelson (22 points and six assists) and Jason Richardson (18 points and four 3-pointers) gave Orlando a chance down the stretch with 11 and 10 points respectively in the fourth quarter. At one point, four Magic baskets in a row were 3-pointers and five of six during one stretch of the fourth quarter.

    And a Nelson-Richardson sequence in the final seconds gave the Magic a shot to tie. Nelson buried a deep 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds to play and Richardson then knocked the in-bounds pass off of James’ leg to give the possession back to Orlando.

    ``One thing we didn’t do is give up,’’ said Nelson, who made six of 12 shots and all eight of his free throws. ``We gave ourselves a chance because we didn’t give up.’’

    Anderson, who started at power forward but got in early foul trouble and missed his first six shots, had a straight-on look with 6.9 ticks left. He said missing the last shot upset him much more than his poor start.

    ``Those shots are really painful to miss,’’ Anderson said. ``That’s a shot I feel that I can make, but it just didn’t drop for me.’’

  • WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Orlando hung tough and scratched to get back within 70-62 late in the third period, but the final 2:53 of the quarter proved to be disastrous.

    Orlando didn’t score as Howard missed five consecutive free throws. And during that time, James had a three-point play and a drive into the lane, Mike Miller scored on a falling-down play and Joel Anthony dunked at the buzzer. The 9-0 burst put the Heat up 79-63 after three quarters.

  • James shredded the Magic’s defense in the first quarter and the first half of the game, rarely even hitting the rim on one jumper after another. Wade made his first nine shots of the first quarter, blitzing the Magic for 23 points in the first 12 minutes.

    Wade made his first 11 attempts, not missing a shot until the game was already 19 minutes old. He hit numerous jumpers, got into the lane for short runners and even had a difficult putback over Howard at the rim.

    He had 29 points on 12 of 15 shooting in the first half. His hot start allowed the Heat to shoot a sizzling 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.3 percent in the first half. The Heat got just five points from Wade in the first half, but still led 55-45 at the intermission because of James’ dazzling exploits.

    After the Magic had drawn to within 94-88 with 90 seconds to play, James buried a 26-foot dagger with Richardson’s hand inches from his face and the shot clock winding down. ``I felt good. I definitely was in a zone and felt like everything that put up was going to go in,’’ James said. ``I was happy we were able to come out fast and get a lead on this team because we needed every point.’’

  • The Magic’s free throw woes – they entered the game 29th in the NBA in that category – struck again and cost them dearly in another close game.

    Orlando made just 16 of 31 from the free throw line. Howard missed 10 of 13 tries, while Arenas missed three in a row at one point and Anderson misfired twice.

    Orlando’s 69.4 percent from the free throw line is just one-hundredth of a point ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (69.3 percent).

    ``Our free throw shooting is a major problem,’’ Van Gundy said. ``If you look at the margins in our games, our last seven losses have all been close games. By and large, free throw shooting in those games has been a factor. We have to be able to shoot the ball better at the free throw line. It’s not all Dwight and the other guys have to shoot free throws, too. It’s something as a coach I can’t yell and scream about that.’’

  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Both teams suffered major injury scares in the game.

    First, Miami’s Mike Miller fell into the left leg of Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu and it initially looked to be a serious injury when the Magic small forward stayed down on the floor. Turkolgu was back minutes later and was cheered by the Amway Center crowd.

    Midway through the third quarter, Wade collided with Howard at the rim and took the worst of the hit. Wade hit the floor hard, landing on his tailbone, back and elbow.

    He returned after a lengthy timeout to make two free throws, but Mario Chalmers was instructed to foul immediately so Wade could leave the game. Wade went straight to the locker room, not even stopping at the Miami bench.

    Wade missed five of his first seven shots and had just seven points at the time of his injury. He came back for the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points.

    ``I am sore. I won’t really know much until tomorrow and see how I feel when I wake up,’’ Wade said. ``I fell right on my back. You try to catch yourself by putting your foot down, but I couldn’t get it down. It hurt pretty bad. I just tried to come back and help my team win in any way that I can. It’s been a tough week, but it’s sports.’’

  • Quentin Richardson, a mostly forgotten man the past month, had a spectacularly athletic play in the second quarter to spark the Magic.

    When Ryan Anderson missed a 3-point shot, Richardson went high into the air and tipped the ball off the glass with his left hand. Knowing that he tipped the ball too hard, Richardson then soared again and tipped the ball into the basket with his left hand.

    Richardson, who played to give James a different look when he easily shot over Turkoglu, also made a clutch 3-pointer late in the third quarter at the end of the shot clock.

  • Recently waived point guard Jason Williams showed up at Amway Center for Thursday night’s game. It was somewhat surprising considering that Williams didn’t even want to be here all season when he was actually on the Magic’s roster.

    Williams thought he could be a third point guard for the Magic, but said the role was much more difficult to stomach than he ever envisioned. Williams knew once the Magic traded for Gilbert Arenas he would never see meaningful minutes again in Orlando.

  • John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.