Denton's Dish: Magic at Heat (3/18/12)
By John Denton
March 18, 2012
MIAMI – Before Sunday’s nationally televised showdown between Orlando and Miami, both Stan Van Gundy and Erik Spoelstra debated the Magic’s merits as a championship contending team.
The consensus was that the Magic – owners of the Eastern Conference’s third-best record and the fifth-best mark in the NBA – deserve to be in the title talk, especially with superstar center Dwight Howard still affixed in Orlando.
Then, the Magic went out Sunday and proved their legitimacy, standing toe to toe with the powerhouse Heat for 42 minutes of game action. But over those final six minutes – when Miami took advantage of Orlando’s mistakes and pulled away for a 91-81 victory – that’s where it became painfully obvious that the Magic still need to improve before the playoffs.
``We can compete with (the Heat), but we have to put four quarters together and do a better job of not turning the ball over,’’ said Howard who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but had four of Orlando’s 20 turnovers. ``That’s what gave them a chance to get out early and get the lead and win it at the end. It’s the small things that are going to matter in a game like this.’’
Down as much as 13 points in the first half, the Magic clawed back and got the game tied just before halftime. They were within one with 9 minutes left and down only four with 6:25 remaining. But Orlando had four turnovers in a five-possession stretch and Dwyane Wade (31 points) took over with five straight Miami baskets.
``We know we can beat them, but we can’t rely on our offense to save us or expect Dwight to save us with monster numbers. We have to play better defense and not turn over the ball,’’ Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said. ``We’ve been turning the ball over a lot and have been careless with the ball. We didn’t take care of it at all and we can’t think we can just turn it on (in the playoffs). We’re not that good. We can’t make a lot of mistakes against this team and play the right way. We don’t have a Dwyane Wade to create. We have to play the right way.’’
Reserve forward Quentin Richardson scored 15 points and made five 3-pointers, while Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson chipped in 13 and 12 points respectively. The Magic shot 39.5 percent for the game, made six of 15 tries in the fourth quarter and had seven turnovers down the stretch.
``Our guys fought hard and competed hard all night. We have competed hard against Miami in every game,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``My approach as a coach is always going to be from a defensive standpoint, but they key to how we do against Miami is with our offense. Our two games at home we’ve played well offensively. And the two games down here we’ve been miserable offensively.’’
The Magic (29-17) and the Heat (33-11) finished the season series 2-2 with each team winning twice on their homecourt. Orlando and Milwaukee are the only teams to defeat the Heat twice this season. That gives the Magic confidence that they are among the NBA’s elite teams.
``We don’t get all of the hoopla, but I think other teams out there know we have a good team. When we play together and play the right way, we’re really good. But we just have to do it on a consistent basis,’’ Howard said. ``I think we have a team that can make a run. I just feel like a lot of guys have to understand what they can do and what they bring to the table. When we play hard and play together we have a chance to win every single night.’’
The Magic will have another major test against a second straight Eastern Conference powerhouse Monday night when they host the Chicago Bulls. The two teams have split two games this season, winning on the other team’s home court. The Bulls beat Philadelphia in Chicago on Saturday night and had Sunday as a travel day to get to Orlando.
Here’s a look back at the key plays from Sunday’s nationally televised game in Miami:
Not only did Richardson hit two 3-pointers, grab two rebounds and hand out an assist in 12 first-half minutes, but he also played tough defensively against James. Richardson’s signature moment of the night came at the end of the first quarter when he chucked James with a shoulder to cut off a drive attempt. Then, when James retreated to the 3-point line and misfired on a jumper as the first quarter Richardson glared at the Heat star for a couple seconds.
Richardson had another three 3-pointers in the second half to help the Magic stay close. He also held James to a pedestrian four of 14 shooting night. James had 12 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and 14 points to crack double digits for the 400th consecutive game in his career, but Richardson made life difficult for him on the offensive end of the floor.
``It’s just basketball and a lot of times some people get intimidated, but I just go try and make it tough,’’ said Richardson, who also made five of eight shots. ``(James) averages near the top of the league in points, so you understand that he’s going to score points. My job is to make it as difficult as possible. I just fight the whole game and make him work for it every play. I try not to give him any of those highlight plays that get him going.’’
Sure, the Magic eventually clawed back into the game, but they had to fight out of a big hole most of the night.
``We didn’t come to play. If we go back and look at the film our effort defensively early in the game wasn’t there,’’ Van Gundy said. ``That is inexcusable. … After the first six minutes of the game I had no complaints in terms of how we fought and competed. But I can’t figure out why we wouldn’t come to play early on in a game like this.’’
Jason Richardson grabbed James on a fastbreak to stop a dunk and originally Palmer ruled the foul to have happened on the floor and legally. Crawford, the crew chief, overruled the call and a video review confirmed that Richardson had grabbed James from behind.
The Heat got two free throws and the ball back as a result of the clear-path foul ruling. James made free throw and Wade converted a layup on an inbounds play to push Miami ahead 58-57.
Howard picked up his second foul with 1:46 left before the half and the center didn’t want to come out of the game with the Magic surging. However, Van Gundy sent Davis into the game and stood firm even when Howard balked.
The good news is the Magic ultimately tied the game at 47-all even with Howard on the bench. Jason Richardson and Nelson had baskets to get Orlando even after they had trailed by as 13 points in the first half. Miami went into halftime after Wade hit a jumper while falling down and getting fouled by Jason Richardson. He buried the ensuing free throw to put the Heat up by three points.
Asked Van Gundy: ``How is there blood and no foul?’’
``I think we can play with anybody. We’ve beaten some good teams this year both home and away. So there’s a level of confidence there going against the elite teams,’’ Redick said. ``We feel like we have a group that can contend. I’ve been saying all season as long as we have Dwight we’re a championship contender. When you surround him with shooters and get in a seven-game series and Stan can go to his lab and scheme, I like our chances.’’
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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