Denton: Heat on the Magic's Mind

By John Denton
November 23, 2010


ORLANDO – Within minutes of Orlando coming up short in a measuring stick game against the surging San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, the Magic quickly moved on mentally to the next litmus test dead ahead.

But then again, it’s not as if the rival Miami Heat have ever really left the Magic’s consciousness.

The Magic were embarrassed in their second game of the regular season by the revamped Heat and the unsightly 96-70 beatdown has never strayed far from Orlando’s psyches.

``It’s the NBA and you have to move on quickly from games, but what happened in Miami is still in the back of our heads and it should be,’’ Magic co-captain Jameer Nelson said. ``We should take this as a challenge and go into the game with a chip on our shoulder. We know they are a good team and they know we’re a good team. We’ll just play our game, do what we do and that should be good enough.’’

The Magic (9-4) played arguably their best game of the young season against an elite team on Monday, but still lost 106-97 when they crumbled down the stretch and let two poor minutes ruin 46 good ones. The loss was highly frustrating to an Orlando team that clearly poured much into the game only to have two turnovers and a 12-2 closing stretch spoil what could have been the biggest win so far.

``We most definitely learned from this (San Antonio) game that if you are going to beat a good team you have to minimize mistakes,’’ said Rashard Lewis, whose 3-pointer with 2:30 to play briefly put the Magic up one. ``You can maybe make mistakes against some teams, but the best teams always take advantage of it.’’

The Magic found that out the hard way on Oct. 29 in Miami when they struggled on both ends of the floor, came unglued in the second half and lost to the Heat in ugly fashion. Orlando had its worst shooting night in years and recorded just five assists, a franchise low. And Orlando’s wing defenders had no answer for Dwyane Wade, who scored at will. The bitter taste from that loss persists even today.

``We didn’t show up in Miami last time, so I look forward to the challenge now. This will be a big one for us,’’ said Mickael Pietrus, who buried three 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds on Monday. ``When we played them a month ago we didn’t play our game, and it’s on us now to do that. If we do that, I think we will win the game.’’

The Magic could be without shooting guard Vince Carter, who sprained his knee in Monday’s fourth quarter on a spinning move into the lane. Carter appeared to have stepped on a defender’s foot, causing his knee to buckle. He was scheduled to get a MRI on his knee on Tuesday and his availability is uncertain.

The re-tooled Heat with new additions LeBron James and Chris Bosh to go with Wade have followed up predictions of a 70-win season and an easy march to The NBA Finals with some monumental struggles. Miami (8-6) has already lost twice to Boston and most recently dropped consecutive games to Memphis and Indiana. The latter came on Monday with a blowout home loss against Indiana and Wade (one of 13) suffering through the worst shooting night of his career.

Still, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy knows the Magic have their work cut out in trying to keep Wade and James from slashing and Bosh from scoring inside. Van Gundy was upset at Orlando’s inability to handle San Antonio’s drive-and-kick game on Monday night, and the Heat will once against test Orlando’s defensive mettle.

``Again, what’s good for us is now we have to play another outstanding offensive team,’’ Van Gundy said. ``They have two of the absolute best penetrators in the league and one of the two best (power forwards) in the league. And they put James Jones and Eddie House out there and (Zydrunas) Ilgauskas picking-and-popping. So it comes back to the same things: Can you get back on defense and get set in transition? Can you keep the ball out of the paint and close on shooters? And last time we had a tremendous problem attacking them because they have a tremendous defense – the best one we have played so far.

``Our guys will be ready to play, but we have to take care of (turnovers and defensive closeouts).’’

Magic superstar center Dwight Howard was the lone Orlando player to play well in the first Heat meeting, scoring 19 first-half points to keep his team within striking distance. But he picked up three rapid-fire fouls in the third quarter, and was out of the game by early in the fourth.

Howard nearly willed Orlando to victory on Monday, battering the Spurs and Tim Duncan for 26 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. He said he took no satisfaction in playing well in defeat, but vowed the Magic would be ready for Wednesday’s nationally televised rematch with the Heat.

``That (Miami) game, it was the home opener for them and everybody was all hyped. They just had a good night and we didn’t,’’ Howard said. ``We’ve got to come back with a better defensive effort and we have to take care of the ball.’’

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.