Postgame Report: Magic at Heat

By John Denton
Dec. 26, 2017

MIAMI – Buoyed by the returns of standout forward Evan Fournier and prized rookie Jonathan Isaac, the Orlando Magic played some of their best basketball in weeks early on Tuesday and seemed poised to capture a much-needed victory against the rival Miami Heat.

Then, inexplicably, a Magic team sailing along and seemingly in control with a 10-point lead stumbled and couldn’t get out of its own way over the final 20 minutes of the game.

Up as much as 11 in the first half and 10 points midway through the third period, Orlando collapsed under an avalanche of turnovers and ultimately lost 107-89 to the Heat at American Airlines Arena.

``When you’re up 10 on the road, you’ve got to feel comfortable, but the momentum switched in three minutes with the turnovers and (Miami’s Goran) Dragic had like three layups,’’ said Fournier, who played for the first time in two-plus weeks and scored 14 points in 30 minutes. ``So that was a momentum-killer.’’

Orlando (11-24) got Fournier back from an ankle sprain and it rode the forward’s stellar play for most of the night before the coming unglued in the third period. The Magic turned the ball over 10 times in the third quarter, leading to 16 points that jump-started the Miami offense. The Heat (18-16) the rode the torrid shooting of Wayne Ellington (18 points and six 3-pointers) to break open a game tied at 68 after three periods.

``That (Miami) team always make runs and when they made a couple of runs on us, we kind of backed up a little bit,’’ said Magic veteran center Marreese Speights, who scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds and drilled a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to draw Orlando within 72-71. ``NBA teams are going to make runs, but you have to stay focused, slow down a little bit and play smarter.’’

The defeat extended the Magic’s losing streak to nine games – the second time they have endured a losing skid of at least nine games this season. The loss also ended Orlando’s four-game winning streak against Miami, one that dated back to last season. The Magic had whipped the Heat in the season-opener on Oct. 18, but this game played out entirely different because of the rash of injuries that have hit the Magic hard over the past month.

In all, Orlando turned the ball over 17 times – 11 of them coming in the deciding second half. Still, head coach Frank Vogel was proud of his team’s effort and precision – save for the sloppy third quarter.

``We turned the ball over, we were a little careless and we were impatient at times and not playing enough with the pass and guys trying to do too much on their own,’’ Vogel said. ``But I was very proud of their effort and how hard they played. We fought throughout the game.’’

Elfrid Payton (19 points, eight rebounds and six assists) and Mario Hezonja (14 points) had solid stretches for the Magic. Jonathon Simmons, a standout on both ends of the floor for Orlando all season, uncharacteristically struggled offensively (one-for-eight shooting, four points) and on the defensive end while trying to slow down Ellington.

Ellington – who had 15 second-half points on five 3-pointers – took over the game when the Magic repeatedly kicked the ball away. He got plenty of help from Josh Richardson, who scored 14 of his 20 points after halftime. Tyler Johnson scored 17, while Dragic had 14 points and six assists. Kelly Olynyk added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Orlando shot just 40.7 percent from the floor and made only five of 20 3-point shots. Miami shot 45.1 percent and had an 18-point advantage from the arc with 11 3-pointers.

Orlando got a much-needed lift with the returns of Fournier and Isaac. But those returns didn’t come without a bit of drama. Some 90 minutes before the game, Vogel said that Fournier and Aaron Gordon (calf strain) wouldn’t play. However, 30 minutes later, it was announced that Fournier was not only active, but he was starting. Fournier, who is also battling a sore wrist, pushed to play and convinced the Magic he was ready to go.

``We got a good bounce (from Fournier’s return) and we were surprised that he was going to play,’’ Speights admitted. ``He fought through the pain (in his ankle) and came out there and played for his team. That’s what it’s all about – playing for your teammates and what we stand for.’’

Isaac, who had one point and one rebounds in 15 minutes, played for the first time since re-injuring his ankle last Wednesday in Chicago. After having missed 19 of the previous 21 games with lingering soreness in the ankle, Isaac had his minutes limited on Tuesday night.

Orlando was playing its first game of the season without Vucevic, who had surgery on Tuesday to repair the fractured second metacarpal in his left hand. The injury occurred on Saturday night in Washington, D.C. when Vucevic – Orlando’s leading rebounder for each of the past six seasons – had his hand hit by Wizards’ center Ian Mahinmi.

Starting in place of Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots. However, he missed his first five field goal attempts and didn’t score his first basket until the final minutes of the game. Clearly, the Magic missed Vucevic’s abilities as a scorer from the block and the perimeter.

Miami was also shorthanded while being without Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Justise Winslow. However, the Heat did get Hassan Whiteside back after a 13-game absence because of a bone bruise in his knee.

Orlando will be back at the Amway Center on Thursday night when it hosts the Detroit Pistons. The Magic lost 114-110 in Detroit last week even though Mario Hezonja scored a career-best 28 points with eight 3-pointers.

Orlando turned the game around in the second quarter and held an encouraging 49-43 lead at halftime. Getting big lifts from its second unit and an energized Fournier, the Magic outscored the Heat 31-22 in the second period to grab the lead.

Up as much as 10 early in the third period, Orlando saw its lead slip away because of its own ball-handling issues. The Magic turned the ball over 10 times in the third period, leading to 16 Heat points. Prior to the third period, Orlando had surrendered just two points off turnovers.

The two teams, both of them struggling to find any sort of consistent offense, headed into the fourth quarter tied at 68. In the fourth, the Heat grabbed a quick lead and never looked back while outscoring the Magic 39-21 over the final 12 minutes.

``We had a lot of turnovers that led to a lot of easy buckets and they just got it going,’’ Fournier said. ``The got the momentum and I thought offensively that’s where we started to struggle. … In the fourth quarter, we just have to be better with our execution.’’

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