By John Denton
March 6, 2013
``We gave them all that they wanted and they knew that leaving this game,’’ Magic newcomer Tobias Harris said. ``Just a matter of seconds could have changed that game. It’s a tough loss for us, but it’s a step in the right direction for this team.
It’s the second heart-breaking close loss to the defending champion Heat this season. Orlando fell 112-110 in overtime to Miami on Dec. 31 in Orlando. And while that loss dampened the Magic’s spirits, it couldn’t compare to the crushing nature of Wednesday’s one-point faltering.
``This is really tough because we were down, we battled back hard and we had a lead,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who was once again a one-man wrecking ball against the Heat with his second career 20-point, 20-rebound effort against versus Miami. ``They just made a couple of big plays down the stretch. And obviously when LeBron came back in the game he madea huge difference and got it done at the end.
Orlando fell when Vucevic (25 points and 21 rebounds), Harris (16 points and seven rebounds) and Maurice Harkless (12 points and three rebounds) fouled out in the fourth quarter as Miami players paraded to the free throw line one after another.
The Magic got another tough break when Harris’ running floater was wiped out with 52 seconds to play when it was ruled that he charged on Miami’s Shane Battier. Making the play doubly difficult for the Magic, it was Harris’ sixth foul.
Vaughn said difficult moments like Wednesday’s loss will team a Magic team with five rookies and three second-year players how to close games in difficult situations. In time, the Magic will win these kind of games, Vaughn said.
``This is tough because you’ve got guys who battled and really wanted to win this game,’’ Vaughn said. ``They deserved to win this game and now we’ve got to regroup and understand that in this league you can’t ask for anything or expect anything. And that’s what happened tonight.’’
Orlando was able to use a stellar second half to recreate the magic from the first meeting against the Heat on Dec. 31. In that game, Vucevic grabbed a franchise record 29 rebounds and the Magic pushed the Heat to overtime before losing 112-110. After Orlando had improbably shaved a 20-point deficit to three by the end of the third quarter, another surge keyed by Vucevic’s relentless hustle pushed Orlando into the lead. Jameer Nelson’s three-point play with 9:23 to play put Orlando ahead for the first time all night. Vucevic’s acrobatic tip-in of a Maurice Harkless missed 3 gave Orlando a somewhat stunning 84-81 advantage to silence the American Airlines Arena crowd.
But Orlando gave Miami a chance down the stretch when Jones’ hard drive to the rim was blocked and Al Harrington’s 3-point try with 14 seconds was off the mark. That set the stage for James’ game-winning heroics.
Vucevic had his second career 20-point, 20-rebound game against a Miami team that attempted to trade for him last summer. Instead, he’s a member of the Magic and he came through on a night when Heat forward Chris Bosh guaranteed before the game that Vucevic would get nowhere near 29 rebounds again. In his 21 boards, he had nine offensive rebounds – giving him 20 of those in two games versus Miami.
``He was unbelievable,’’ Vaughn gushed. ``The fact that they came into the game trying to eliminate him because of the performance that he had last time. But he stepped up and carried us big time for a stretch. He was really good.’’
Prior to Wednesday’s tipoff, former Magic power forward Rashard Lewis – now a reserve for the Heat – angrily responded to comments from former Magic center Dwight Howard that his Orlando teammates in the past were ``a team full of people who nobody wanted.’’
``I mean, hell, look at those banners hanging up in the stands (at the Amway Center),’’ Lewis said, referring to Orlando’s division crowns and 2009 Eastern Conference title. ``They don’t say `Dwight Howard’ on them; it was a full roster, coaching staff and (former GM) Otis Smith that helped. Everybody should get a piece of the credit because it wasn’t just one guy who did everything.’’
The Magic will practice on Thursday before hosting the Indiana Pacers on Friday at the Amway Center. Orlando whipped Indiana 97-86 on Jan. 16 for one of its most impressive home victories of the season. The Pacers play in Miami on Sunday in a much-anticipated playoff rematch, so the Magic will hoping to catch Indy looking ahead.
Looking as if he was trying to recreate his record-setting rebounding performance, Vucevic went to work on the boards in the third quarter to jump-start the Magic. With Orlando once down as much as 20 points, the Magic surged back into the game behind Vucevic’s activity on the glass. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in the third quarter alone to help the Magic get within 77-74 by the start of the fourth quarter. Vucevic was so dominant that he had four offensive boards in the third period alone.
``They had Shane Battier on me a lot and I was just trying to use my size to get rebounds,’’ Vucevic said. ``I had a smaller guy on me and I was just trying to go hard and the rebounds were coming off right.’’
Miami used the final minutes of the first two quarters to pull away from the Magic and build a 55-40 lead at the intermission. The Heat scored the final seven points of the first period to break an 18-all tie. Later, after Orlando had gotten within 49-40, the Heat scored the final six points of the first half to head to the locker room with a 15-point bulge.
Miami attacked the rim throughout the first half, scoring 24 points in the paint in the first 24 minutes. Most of those points came off dunks as James and Wade seemingly took turns throwing alley-oop lobs to one another for dunks. Miami’s three all-stars had 34 points by halftime.
Afflalo was coming off one of his best games of the season after scoring 26 points against New Orleans on Monday. But Afflalo had to rush several of his shots early on Wednesday and missed nine of his first 10 tries from the field. He also missed all four of his 3-point tries early in the game.
Nelson did his best to keep the Magic in it early by hitting two 3-pointers, scoring eight points and handing out five assists. The only downside was that he had three of Orlando’s 10 first-half turnovers, mistakes that the Heat converted into 11 points. At the end of the game, James specifically sought out Vucevic and congratulated him on another stellar showing for the Magic.
``LeBron told me after the game that I played real well and that means a lot coming from the best player in the NBA,’’ Vucevic said. ``That was nice. He told me, `Good job, big guy; keep playing hard; helluva game,’ something like that. When LeBron says that, it means a lot.’’
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