Miami was rolling, expanding a seven-point lead late in the third quarter out to 14 by the end of the quarter. Then it sure seemed like the Heat hit cruise control and let the Magic wallow in pity as the title of contender for the title passed them by.
It sure seemed like all the problems of the last two weeks culminated in this effort — and at times lack thereof — against Miami. It was a supposed measuring stick game against one of the better teams in the East. Even without Brandon Bass, it served as a litmus test of sorts of where this team is after the trades.
What did we learn?
It is still extremely difficult to tell.
Orlando went down by 21 in that fourth quarter when Miami hit cruise control. All seemed lost as the Magic hoisted up quick, contested shots and failed to get Dwight Howard involved in the offense. It was desperation time for Orlando trying to shoot its way back into the game.
Somehow it worked. Somehow Orlando climbed back into this game. It was not slowly or surely. it was suddenly and without warning. It was quickly an eight-point game. Dwyane Wade missed a couple of free throws and Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson drained 3-pointers.
It was a three-point game when Jameer Nelson knocked the ball off of LeBron James and out of bounds with seven seconds left. The Magic had a chance to tie the game. Orlando had plenty of options open and chose Ryan Anderson. Avoiding a foul, he pumped fake, sidestepped and hoisted for three. It rimmed out and the Heat survived for a 104-100 victory at Amway Center on Thursday.
It really looked like the Magic were dead in the water in the fourth quarter. It may not be the time in the season for a panic, but it definitely felt like it was time for some serious re-evaluating. Or a good, hard look in the mirror.
The Magic played impatient on offense, hoisting mid-range jumpers and staying away from the paint like it was on fire. Dwight Howard scored 16 points in the first half, but was held to one point and took just two field goals. That does not mean good offense.
It says something that the Magic scored as many points in the fourth quarter (37) as they did in the second (19) and third (18) quarters combined.
LeBron James made sure Orlando was playing from behind the entire game. His game was unreal. 51 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists. Not much more needs to be said. He was just on from the get go, making his first 11 field goals and scoring 17 points in the first quarter.
Still, the first half Orlando played pretty well on the defensive end. I counted only two shots at the rim for James in the first half and he did not take any 3-pointers. He finished 17 for 25 on the evening. So having James dominate the scoring for most of the game was actually a pretty good thing. Orlando was down at the half, but it was more an issue of staying patient on offense than defending James.
James was taking long two-pointers and making them. You live with that.
Orlando was serving a healthy diet of Dwight Howard. And, for the most part was moving the ball. And that is the offense Orlando wants to see. But it was all in stretches, never sustained. Every time the Magic got close to tying the game, Howard would miss a free throw or something would happen to kill momentum. It happened throughout the game. The Magic just could not get over the hump.
Miami made the adjustments at the half and started moving the ball and getting Orlando out of position offensively. The Heat attacked the basket more and played more aggressively defensively. The Magic’s defense went as their offense went. If shots were falling, the defense was tight. If it was not, it allowed the Heat to dictate pace and get what they wanted.
Again, it felt like Orlando was sleepwalking through parts of this game, just waiting for something to work.
The Magic ended up shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and 12 of 32 from beyond the arc. Half of those 3-pointers came in the near-comeback. Jameer Nelson quietly led Orlando with 22 points, six assists and six rebounds. Jason Richardson got hot at the end to reach 16 points.
But really, Thursday’s games were a microcosm for all that is good and bad about this team. All the problems the Magic have fought through the past two weeks showed up. Orlando got good looks at 3-pointers and missed them. The focus faded in and out. And the storm to get back into the game started too late.
This game was hardly a measuring stick. This team is who we thought they were. There is still room for improvement and still frustrations in this team. And there still seems to be a long way to go.