There are some basic truths to this Magic team. When they hit 3-pointers they are damn near unbeatable. When they are not hitting 3-pointers, they have a ton of holes that good teams, like say the Heat, can exploit. That is how leads disappear and that is how disappointment and frustration build.
Dealing with those droughts has been the struggle of this season so far. There have been times when the team completely folded or succumbed to frustration.
The Heat punched and fought. It was the Magic this time that survived their droughts, stuck to the game plan and broke the Heat's will.
It started with Dwight Howard dominating inside and Ryan Anderson dominating otuside. It ended with the Magic buckling down defensively, digging out offensive rebounds, outhustling the Heat and grinding out a win. Miami lost its spark in an 11-point third quarter, the lowest since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, losing the momentum of a comeback effort in the second quarter.
The Magic were in control, taking as much as a 19-point lead, in a strong from start-to-finish performance for a 102-89 win over the Heat on Wednesday at Amway Center.
Orlando's defense deserves a lot of credit for absolutely stifling and slowing one of the best offenses in the league. The Magic quickly built a 17-point lead in the first half behind Dwight Howard's monstrous effort on the glass and in the post (and on defense actually) and Ryan Anderson's shooting. The team was also passing the ball extremely well.
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But the Heat had all the momentum in the second quarter. Dwyane Wade scored 18 of his 33 points in the second quarter and just absolutely took over the game. Really it was not so much what Wade was doing offensively, but what his team was doing.
The Magic hit a bust cycle and the 3-pointers were not falling in the second quarter. Miami used that opportunity to get out on the break, turning turnovers into fast break points. That is what the Heat wanted to do in this game. Miami held an athletic advantage and it is a team that wants to get out on the break.
Orlando never lost the lead but saw it trimmed to one possession at halftime.
There was no clue as to what the Magic would look like coming out of the locker room. This season, the team has looked rattled when runs like this are made. The game certainly teetered on the edge.
But Orlando had a renewed focus on getting back and the game slowed to a crawl. It was the perfect strategy for this game for sure as Miami was not nearly as effective running a half-court offense. LeBron James struggled as he could not get to the basket with Dwight Howard establishing himself as a deterrent in the first quarter. James finished without a field goal in the second half and 17 points on 5-for-15 shooting on the evening.
Orlando dug down very deep and grinded things out when the offense was not working. It all came down to effort really. Orlando was active tipping and harrassing ball handlers. How often does Dwight Howard come up wtih three steals? The Magic set the tone in the third quarter and absolutely flustered the Heat all night.
Eventually the shots did fall. Dwight Howard's methodical pacing of the offense opened the creases and he made some really nice passes to set up 3-point shooters. Howard was absolutely dominant with 25 points -- on 9-for-14 shooting and a 67.9 percent true shooting percentage -- and 24 rebounds. He had a double double after the first quarter.
But it was the effort he and Ryan Anderson brought to the game, especially on the offensive glass, that set Orlando apart and made a 42.2 percent shooting night a pretty strong offensive night. Yes, Howard and Anderson were monsters on the offensive glass. Each had seven offensive rebounds and the team had 17 overall. And those second chance opportunities became killers in the first and second half as the Magic consistently converted them into points.
The Magic had just an incredible night from beyond the arc. Orlando hit 17 3-pointers on a franchise record 42 attempts. And Stan Van Gundy estimated after the game that more than 30 of them were good looks. and it is hard to argue. Miami seemed focused on slowing down the post (the team didn't) and it opened up lanes for Orlando to attack. The Magic got to the line 21 times -- and kept the Heat off the line allowing only 17 attempts.
And, unlike some previous games, the Magic were in sync and made quick decisions. The Heat's defense was not adjusted in the first quarter and then again in the fourth quarter. Whether it was because Miami did not have the legs or the focus is something for Miami to consider. What Orlando did was rip apart the defense with pinpoint passing and ball reversals.
That is how Ryan Anderson scored 24 points in the first half (and 27 for the game). That is how J.J. Redick put the game away with eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. That is how Jameer Nelson finally shook the pressure defense from Norris Cole and LeBron James for a big five-point burst in the fourth quarter with Miami trying one last ditch effort at stealing a road win.
Simply, Miami lost what little energy it had to compete in this game as Orlando slowed it down and continued to make plays. Even with shots not falling, the Magic kept their composure. More than anything for Orlando, that was the lesson. Likely this was not Miami's best team we saw tonight. Beating the name on the jersey was nice though.
And with four wins in the past five games, this team seems to be brimming with confidence again.