By John Denton
March 25, 2013
Said James of Miami’s impressive 27-game winning spree: ``We’re not taking our team for granted. I continue to say that in professional sports wins are hard to come by and teams like this are really rare. Our historic run is about winning championships. That is what we want to be known for. It’s part of a process. Whatever comes in between that we can be excited about. We didn’t have a goal in mind to say let’s go on a long consecutive win streak, but our goal is to win every game that we’re on the floor.’’
Orlando (18-53) tied the game at 68-all with 3 minutes left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Nelson. But James took the game over from there, scoring when the Magic single-covered him and passing out for 3-pointers when they double-teamed the three-time NBA MVP.
Tobias Harris chipped in 20 points for the Magic, while E’Twaun Moore added 13 points and rookie center Kyle O’Quinn had 12 points and six rebounds.
``They’re beatable and they’ve been beaten before, but they are a great team and they are the defending champions for a reason,’’ Harris said. ``We were playing short-handed, but it was still good for us to gain the experience of playing a team like this.’’
The Magic shot just 43 percent from the floor as rookie Maurice Harkless (three of 15, seven points) and Beno Udrih (one of nine, seven points) struggled through tough shooting nights. Harkless did what he could defensively against James, but there was no stopping Miami when the defense collapsed and the superstar forward kicked out to open 3-point shooters.
``They’re a great team, they have a lot of weapons and there is a reason why they’ve won so many games in a row,’’ Harkless said. ``They took it to another level (late in the third quarter) and we couldn’t punch back. It’s a game of runs, they went on a run and we couldn’t recover.’’
Monday’s marquee game, which was televised nationally by ESPN, attracted a who’s who of superstar athletes sitting courtside. Major League Baseball sluggers Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander sat near the court, while former MLB star Ken Griffey was on the baseline. And former Masters champion Bubba Watson spent most of the halftime chatting up Miami reserve guard Ray Allen, while reigning U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson sat nearby.
The Heat have not lost since a Feb. 1 road defeat at Indiana. During the streak, Miami has won by 11.5 points a game. They have defeated Philadelphia three times during the streak, while beating Atlanta, Cleveland and Orlando twice throughout this run. A whopping 16 of the victories have been by double digits.
``I’m far from the expert on (when the Heat will lose) and I’ll just worry about the Orlando Magic and who we have next coming up,’’ coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``But that’s a very good ball club led by a very good player. It’s impressive what they’re doing.’’
Miami won even though it was playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games. The Heat have done many things better than the rest of the NBA, including going 12-1 this season when playing the second night of a back-to-back. The Heat play at Chicago (Wednesday), at New Orleans (Friday) and at San Antonio (Sunday) as they look to extend their winning streak.
Orlando was hoping to recreate some of the Magic from the first two meetings when it also felled the Heat. Orlando lost 112-110 in overtime on Dec. 31, and fell 97-96 earlier this month when James converted a game-winning layup with 3.2 seconds remaining.
``We’ve had three tough games against them. They’re not afraid, that bunch,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``They gave us everything that we could handle. … It’s a lot of speed and quickness that (Orlando) brings to the game. Those young kids are fearless, so we had to earn it.’’
After playing seven consecutive games against teams headed to the playoffs, the Magic will be in Charlotte on Wednesday night to face the Bobcats. The Magic won in Charlotte 107-98 on Dec. 15, but lost twice to the Bobcats in Orlando.
Orlando was without starters Nikola Vucevic (concussion) and Arron Afflalo (hamstring tear). Afflalo was lost for the rest of the season following the injury he suffered on Friday night, while Vucevic missed his third straight game because of concussion-like symptoms.
Losing Vucevic was especially impactful because he had hauled in 50 rebounds in two games against the Heat this season – a franchise-record 29 on Dec. 31 and another 21 earlier this month. Vucevic also had hurt the smallish Heat front line with his scoring with 20 and 25 points in two games.
The Magic lost rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson midway through the first quarter when he sprained his left ankle and did not return. Nicholson got tangled up on the offensive end of the floor as he was battling Miami’s Chris Bosh for post position.
Miami was also without one of its primary pieces in Wade, who has a bruised bursa sac in his right knee. Wade talked before the game about the challenge that the Heat were facing on a nightly basis because of other teams wanting to end the winning streak.
``We’re getting everyone’s best shot. We’re the defending champions. We’re going to get everyone’s best shot,’’ Wade said. ``I understand why teams would want to be the team that stops the talk of the streak. It gives a little more incentive at this time of the year. But it’s good for us, because it gets us ready for what’s coming next. We’re going to see many different styles in many different games and we’re going to have to win in many different ways. So it’s all good.’’
Down as much as 11 points in the third quarter, Orlando staged a nifty comeback and tied the game at 68-all on a 3-pointer by Nelson. But that only seemed to spark James, who scored seven points and assisted on an Allen 3 that gave the Heat a 78-68 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Heat sprung to a 55-46 halftime lead after the Magic’s offense ground to a halt in the second quarter. After making 11 of 19 shots and four 3-pointers in the first quarter, Orlando connected on just seven of 31 tries in the second period. That led to just 18 points in the quarter, allowing Miami to take control of the game.
Orlando led by as many as six points in the second quarter and were up 42-37 when the Heat turned the game around with a 13-0 spurt. During that Miami run, former Magic forward Rashard Lewis hit two 3-pointers to take the Heat from being down 42-37 to up 50-42.
James hurt the Magic even when he wasn’t scoring in the first half. When the Magic doubled him in the post twice in the first half, it resulted in consecutive Mario Chalmers 3-pointers from the opposite corner. And when they left Harkless alone to defend James, the likely MVP scored on a nifty up and under move from the low block. James had an efficient six points, five rebounds and four assists in the first half.
``He’s one of the best players in the world and he has Hall of Fame shooters on his team,’’ Harkless said. ``You double and you are leaving Mario Chalmers open, Ray Allen open and Shane Battier open. With them you have to pick your poison and hope that you can get stops.’’
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