Postgame Report: Magic at Heat

by John Denton

MIAMI – Steve Clifford and Erik Spoelstra have a friendship that dates back 19 years, to a time when both were pro scouts and aspiring NBA coaches, and they still enjoy each other’s company today.

However, if Spoelstra – head coach of the Miami Heat – had his way, he and his counterpart from the Orlando Magic wouldn’t be spending so much time together this NBA season.

``I consider Steve one of the friends that I have in the league, going back to when we scouted together,’’ Spoelstra said. ``I’m glad that he got another (coaching) opportunity, but I would have preferred if he went West.’’

Clifford and Spoelstra, Southeast Division rivals once again, squared off on Monday night in Miami and they matched wits against once all the way to the end of a tense finish. Their teams were far from their best – fitting of the game’s preseason designation – but the Heat overcame a night of sloppiness, got an officiating break at the end and clawed their way to a 90-89 defeat of the Magic.

Orlando (1-2 in the preseason) took an 89-88 lead with 1:47 to play when Aaron Gordon drilled a 3-pointer. However, Miami’s Rodney McGruder (19 points) scored seconds later to give the Heat (1-3) a lead they would not surrender.

Orlando had the ball with 1.3 seconds remaining and Clifford drew up an in-bounds play designed for the high-flying Gordon. However, prior to the in-bounds play referee Gediminas Petraitis refused to hand the ball to Nikola Vucevic after blowing his whistle. Orlando tipped its hand with its play following the whistle, and re-ran the same look following the referee snafu. Ultimately, Vucevic’s pass was off the mark because of the defense of Miami center Bam Adebayo and the Magic fell for a second time in three preseason games.

``We started the play when he blew the whistle, but I didn’t have the ball, so (the Heat) kind of knew the play that we were going to run,’’ Vucevic said. ``We still had a solid look that we wanted to run and maybe I could have done a better job getting the ball to A.G., but Bam Adebayo did a good job of pushing out Aaron a little bit. But, it happens and it gives us a chance to work on some special stuff that we want to do (at the end of close games).’’

Vucevic played well against the Heat yet again, giving the Magic 22 points and 14 rebounds. Reserve point guard Jerian Grant (17 points) gave the Magic some much-needed offense on a night when Evan Fournier (two of 12, four points), Gordon (five of 17, 12 points), D.J. Augustin (one of six, six points) and Jonathon Simmons (two of 11, four points) struggled with their shots.

Once down as much as 19 points early in the third quarter, Orlando roared back into it and re-took the lead with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter. A Khem Birch layup that was set up by a Mohamed Bamba assist improbably put the Magic into the lead.

Bamba, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, finished with seven points, four rebounds and three assists. He came into the game having made all four of his 3-point shots in the first two preseason games, but he missed all three of his attempts on Monday. Orlando shot just 37.8 percent from the floor and made only seven of 26 3-point shots.

``They have Hassan (Whiteside) in the middle and he’s a tremendous shot-blocker,’’ Gordon said of the reason Orlando struggled offensively. ``We’ve got to do a better job of getting him off his feet and driving the ball and playing inside-out (basketball).’’

Goran Dragic scored 16 points for the Heat.

The next time that the Magic and Heat see one another they will be opening the regular season on Oct. 17 at the Amway Center. It’s the third straight season that the Orlando and Miami will open the regular season at the Amway Center. The Heat won that game two years ago, while the Magic captured the victory last year.

``They’re a good team and a playoff team last year, so we know that if we can play with them we’ll be in good position this season,’’ said Grant, whom the Magic acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Chicago Bulls.

Orlando will close out the preseason by hosting the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday and the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. The Magic are hopeful that Jonathan Isaac (ankle sprain), Terrence Ross (sore foot) and Timofey Mozgov (dislocated finger) – all of whom missed Monday’s game – will be able to play on Wednesday to get live game reps prior to the start of the regular season.

Clifford is hoping to see the same kind of fight in those games that he saw in Monday’s second half.

``(The deficit) was 10 and we came out flat and they jumped us, but our defense got us back into the game,’’ Clifford said. ``I thought our defense was really good, holding them to 17 (points) in the fourth. So, that was really good.’’

Clifford and Spoelstra worked their way up the ranks in the NBA, serving as scouts and assistant coaches before getting their shots as head coaches. Clifford worked with the Knicks, Rockets, Magic and Lakers before becoming a head coach in 2013 with the Hornets. Meanwhile, Spoelstra got his start with the Heat in 1995 as a video coordinator, but he quickly worked his way up to an assistant coaching job. When legendary coach Pat Riley moved up solely to the front office, Spoelstra got the nod as head coach and he proceeded to win two titles while LeBron James and Chris Bosh played with Dwyane Wade.

Clifford, who faced the Heat four times a season in his five years as a Magic assistant and while in Charlotte as head coach, said there are some hallmarks to all of Spoelstra’s teams.

``The biggest thing is (Spoelstra’s teams) don’t give possessions away, they know how they want to play and they stay with it,’’ Clifford raved about the Heat. ``I told the (Magic) guys that to me, as much as any other team, they’re not going to beat themselves many nights. You’re going to have to beat them and you’re going to have to execute and (the Heat) are going to play with great intensity and purpose.’’

Down 10 at the half, Orlando saw the deficit swell to as much as 19 when it missed its first seven shots of the third period. The Magic did storm back to within 65-62 when Gordon heated up, but a poor finish to the period left them down 73-68 by the start of the fourth.

Orlando got off to a fine enough start and led 22-20 after a period. However, the Magic’s ball-handling and shooting disappeared in a dreadful second quarter, leaving them in a 52-42 hole by halftime.

The Magic made just eight of 22 shots and turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter alone. Jarell Martin, an offseason acquisition from Memphis, turned the ball over three times in the second quarter and four times total in the first half.

Grant, who was acquired in the three-team trade with Charlotte and Chicago in July, feels the Magic can build off their strong finish to the night.

``(That showed) that we’re going to be a really good team this year,’’ said Grant, the nephew of Magic legend Horace Grant. ``We’ve got a lot of pieces and I feel like between the starters and the bench, we don’t lose much. Teams are going to have to come and play us for 48 minutes. We want teams to realize when they play the Magic it’s going to be a tough game for 48 minutes.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.