Miami made a triumphant return home in debuting its new superstar trio to the home crowd for the first time. Although what they have conquered is difficult to say. Blame ESPN and the national media for awarding this Heat team at least the Eastern Conference all you want, but when the Magic finally got to see the Heat up close and in person all you could do was be impressed. The shock of how dialed in and ready Miami was compared to and Orlando team that has done nothing but romp through its competition.
So when the Heat delivered a 14-0 run haymaker in the third quarter, the Magic struggled to respond. It certainly did not help that Miami suffocated any open space on defense and allowed Dwight Howard to get his points away from the basket. The Magic could not hit any shots as the Heat got out on the break and pulled away in the third quarter for a 96-70 win at American Airlines Arena. For the first time this season, Orlando was on the losing end. And emphatically so.
It will be easy to draw a lot of conclusions off of this game. Very easy.
It will be more difficult to resist that. Miami absolutely suffocated Orlando in this one.
The 28-10 third quarter (just two field goals in that one) and 25 total points in the second half attest to that. The 30.4 percent shooting from the floor and 4-for-24 performance from beyond the arc does too. Throw in a franchise-low five assists (a paltry 6.0 percent assist rate as a team) and a franchise-low seven field goals in the second half. Only three players scored in double figures — one got it all in the first half and the other got most of it in the fourth quarter when the game was pretty much over. And an 80.5 offensive rating does not inspire any more confidence.
Miami was ball-hawking and flying all over the place. LeBron James was the designated doubler, pinching down on Dwight Howard throughout the game and using his length to recover on shooters and tip passes. He and Chris Bosh were incredibly active in that regard.
And every missed shot led right into James and Wade’s hands. It is no secret this Miami team wants to run. That is where Wade and James are most effective. Those two guys are completely unstoppable in the open court. And with Orlando clanking shots throughout the third quarter, that is where Miami went to quickly extend the lead.
As the Heat opened the third quarter with a six-point lead, it ballooned to 12 in a blink of an eye. Wade opened the quarter with two 3-pointers and it snowballed from there.
And really the Magic should have seen it coming in the first half. Dwight Howard was the only guy scoring and helped keep the game tight. Orlando trailed most of the first half and were down nine at one point. It was Howard keeping the Magic in this thing solely on his own.
And really even that was on Miami’s terms.
Howard scored all 19 of his points in the first half as he flat out looked ready to carry Orlando as far as it needed to go. The bad news was he picked up fouls pretty quickly in the second half — three in the third quarter. Howard was on the bench as the Heat really opened things up.
One of the few positives though was how Howard dominated play in the first half. Miami was happy to let him shoot jumpers, but Howard shooting them and making them. When he hit a few, he started breaking down defenders and got to the basket or made running hooks. Again, they were shots on Miami’s terms. But still an impressive outing — especially for what amounted to a single half’s worth of work, considering how frustration set in during the second half.
Howard needed to produce for his team, using 32.8 percent of his possessions and generally using them effectives (3-7 field goals, seven rebounds and one turnover completed his line).
But, again, it was all on Miami’s terms. He had no dunks and no easy shots. He had to work for everything.
The Heat dictated everything and imposed their will. They knocked Orlando to the ground — JJ Redick received an elbow while taking a charge on James and needed stitches — and kept the shooters off balance. Rashard Lewis, Quentin Richardson and Vince Carter might as well have not been at the game the way they played. Lewis was 0 for 9 and Carter was 1 for 5. Jameer Nelson scored 10 points, but was just 3 for 11.
Let me argue for a moment that there was some good out of this game.
Orlando needed to be humbled. The Magic have been able to coast through the preseason without a challenge and without having to test their mettle. True, it was preseason and a game against the Wizards and that is nowhere near what Orlando saw tonight. But things have been easy for this Magic team. Maybe this shell shock will snap the focus back into place.
I can guarantee you Stan Van Gundy will find a way to get his players open shots the next time these two teams face (in late November).
There were some good things that came out of this game — Howard’s offense being one of them. But Orlando saw a lot of problems exposed. Whether it was getting wrapped up in the pregame festivities and media frenzy surrounding the Heat or playing their first back to back of the season, the Magic were not ready for the punch that came in the second half. Even while playing pretty poorly, this was still a game at halftime.
As Stan Van Gundy noted between the third and the fourth quarters to ESPN’s microphone, this is just game two of a long season. The Magic needed to win the fourth quarter and get some positive momentum. They may not have done that as completely as they wanted, but a 17-15 quarter after the egg the team laid in the third counts for some morale. Maybe not.
These guys are focused on a long-term goal. No one will remember a night in late October.
That is unless, it happens again. If it does, then it might be time to start worrying and make the splashy move Otis Smith refused to make this offseason.