Magic Hard-Fought Effort Comes Up Short Against Hot-Shooting Heat

Nikola Vucevic
by John Denton

MIAMI – Irate in recent days by his team’s sagging energy and an absent attention to detail defensively, Orlando coach Steve Clifford instead pointed the finger squarely at himself late Wednesday night after Miami Heat rookie Duncan Robinson repeatedly took advantage of the Magic in the early going.

After Orlando game-planned early in the day to try and stop all-star guard Jimmy Butler, the sweet-shooting Robinson made the Magic regret that decision by repeatedly torching them throughout the first half. The Magic finally got a handle on Robinson when they switched their defense at halftime, but by then Miami’s roster full of 3-point marksmen had already found their rhythm and they ultimately shot the Heat past the hard-luck Magic at American Airlines Arena.

Robinson, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Michigan, scored 27 points and drilled nine of Miami’s 22 3-point shots – none of them bigger than the two that came consecutively late in the fourth quarter in a taut, one-point game – as the Heat won 116-113 and outlasted a Magic team that poured plenty effort into the game.

Orlando (27-35) lost for a third consecutive time – and a third straight time to Miami (40-22) after winning the first game against the two Sunshine State rivals. Afterward, Clifford pinned the blame on himself for not reacting quickly enough when Robinson made seven of his nine 3-point shots in the first half. Orlando blitzed the 6-foot-7, 215-pound guard with double-teams in the second half to limit him to just one 3-pointer out of half-court sets and one out of a scramble following a turnover in the final 24 minutes.

``I told the guys, the biggest factor tonight – which is totally on me – we just didn’t have a good enough Option B for Duncan Robinson until halftime,’’ Clifford said. ``When we made adjustments at halftime, our guys did a good job, but (Robinson’s first-half shooting) was difference in the game.’’

Despite Robinson’s brilliance, Orlando still had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. Orlando hoped to get the ball to Terrence Ross – a one-man wrecking crew all night with his 35 points and eight 3-pointers – but that play was thwarted by the Heat defense. Instead, Aaron Gordon got a clean look from the right corner off a step-back 3-pointer, but it was off line just before the final horn.

``It felt good, it was an OK (look). I thought it was going down and we were going to overtime,’’ said Gordon, who was back after a one-game absence and briefly looked to be on track for the second triple-double of his career before finishing with 11 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals.

The Heat, which improved to 27-4 at home, made 22 of 44 3-point shots against a Magic defense that has had major problems in that very area of late. The 22 3-pointers tied for the most against the Magic this season, equaling the 22 that Houston made at the Amway Center back on Dec. 13.

With Miami clinging to a 107-106 lead following a short jumper by Markelle Fultz (14 points and six assists) with just 4:50 to play, it got 3-pointers from Robinson (off a turnover in a scramble set) and Goran Dragic to push its lead out to 113-106. Jae Crowder then burned Orlando for another 3-pointer to give the Heat a 116-108 edge.

``We’ve just got to find a way to get more stops down the stretch,’’ said Ross, whose 35 points bested his previous season high of 33 points, which he scored last Friday in a win over Minnesota. ``To win these kinds of games, you’ve got to get stops late in the game.’’

Robinson torched the Magic defense for 21 points and seven 3-point shots in the opening half. For the game, he made nine of 12 shots – all of them from 3-point range.

``It was tough because you could see that (Robinson) was really in rhythm,’’ marveled Ross, who did everything in his power to keep the Magic within striking distance after they fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. ``Even when we’d take away the shot, (Robinson) would give it up, keep moving and get another (3-pointer). He was really looking for his shot, so you could tell he was in rhythm.’’

Miami needed every bit of Robinson’s shooting from deep to stave off the Magic, who shot a solid 52.4 percent from the floor and drilled 13 of 30 3-point shots. Ross had a big hand in that, making 12 of 18 shots and eight of 10 3-pointers.

Nikola Vucevic, who has a long history of playing well against Miami, gave the Magic 22 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He marveled at the play of Ross, who steadied the Magic after it wobbled in the second period.

``When he gets hot like that, it’s great for us because he opens up so much,’’ said Vucevic, who made nine of 16 shots and one of three 3-pointers himself. ``It doesn’t take much for (Ross) to get open and shoot. He’s gotten really, really good coming off pin-downs and different screen actions and we know to look for him. That’s one of the most efficient offensive things that we have. Whenever he gets hot – or whatever happens – we just have to get him good looks because he opens up so much for our team regardless of whether he’s making shots or not.’’

Dragic, who has dramatically changed his game to better fit the modern NBA, scored 25 points and added five 3-pointers. Kelly Olynyk added 16 points and three more 3-pointers off the Heat bench. Butler, the driving force behind Miami’s surprising season, finished with 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but made only four of nine shots.

``The stuff that we did this morning (while game-planning for the Heat) wasn’t enough and we didn’t have a Plan B to go to because we had spent more time on Butler,’’ Clifford said of the Magic’s defensive plan going into the game. ``So, we needed halftime to kind of adjust. That’s my decision. You can’t do everything in the shootaround. I prioritized Jimmy Butler, and in this case, it was a mistake. I told (the Magic players), that was as big a factor as there was in the game.’’

Winners of six of the eight meetings the previous two seasons, Orlando came into Wednesday down 2-1 in the season series against rival Miami. The Magic whipped the Heat 105-85 in the first meeting by holding Miami to a franchise-worst six points in the fourth quarter. Miami captured the next two meetings, winning 113-92 on Jan. 27 in South Florida and 102-89 on Feb. 1 in Central Florida.

``These little mini-rivalries – it matters to (the Magic) and it matters to (the Heat),’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said prior to tipoff. ``The two franchises (battling), that’s good for this sport and good for the game. They approached it with an edge that first game (in January) and kicked our ass. We were able to respond the next two games. … You’ve got to embrace and enjoy good competition.’’

Wednesday’s game in Miami was the start of a four-game road trip that will have the Magic zig-zagging throughout Florida, the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast. Orlando also plays in Minnesota (Friday), Houston (Sunday) and Memphis (Tuesday) on their last lengthy road trip of the season.

Minnesota was the final team in the NBA that the Magic faced this season, and now Orlando will play the Timberwolves twice in a week. Orlando rolled to a 136-125 win over Minnesota last Friday at the Amway Center behind Ross’ 33 points and the first triple-double of Gordon’s career (17 points, a career-best 12 assists and 11 rebounds). Orlando is 38-22 all-time against Minnesota, which also entered the NBA during the 1989-90 season. The Magic are 14-15 all-time in Minneapolis.

Within five at the half after trailing by as many of 15 in the opening half, the Magic stormed into the lead in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Fournier. The Magic twice led by two points in the period by making 12 of 23 shots with three 3-pointers. Miami still made four 3-pointers in the period and moved ahead of Orlando 88-84 at the end of the third quarter.

Michael Carter-Williams, who got off to a rough start with three first-half turnovers, gave Orlando a huge boost just after halftime. He converted a put-back layup for a three-point play, drilled a 3-pointer from the corner and sank a layup in traffic for eight third-quarter points. Carter-Williams finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes.

Orlando nearly got run out of the arena in the first half when the Heat turned a one-point deficit into a 50-35 lead thanks to their torrid 3-point shooting – spearheaded by Robinson’s dead-eye accuracy. However, Ross nearly matched Robinson’s first-half production and almost single-handedly got the Magic within 60-55 of the Heat by intermission.

Robinson drilled seven of his first eight shots in the first half – all of them from 3-point range. His shots came off dribble-hand-off plays, screen-and-shoot looks and cuts to free himself up while off the ball.

His shooting helped Miami made 13 of its first 23 3-point shots. The 13 3-pointers were the most allowed in a first half this season by the Magic, topping the 11 Houston made on Dec. 13.

Orlando stayed within striking distance because of Roos’ fearless shooting and his ability to pile up points in a hurry. Not only did he make seven of his first eight shots, but he drilled four straight 3-pointers. Ross’ only flaw of the first half was two missed free throws, but he still finished with 20 points in the opening half.

Robinson had a much tougher time after halftime after the Magic made adjustments in order to get the ball out of his hands.

``We just had to figure out a way to get the ball out of his hands, but we were just a little late on doing that,’’ Ross said. ``He kind of got us in the first half. We just trapped and blitzed a little bit (after halftime) to try and take his rhythm away.’’

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.

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