“Can just sit here and say it’s any old game, because it’s not.” Those were the words of Lebron James Tuesday night in reference to the upcoming game against instate rival Orlando. His words proved to be prophetic. James had a NBA season high 51 points combined with 11 assists, and 8 rebounds to send the Magic to a disappointing 104-100 loss at home. A masterful performance by one of the NBA’s greatest players and certainly not any old game!
The Magic donning the road black uniforms at home might have felt like they were on the road with the “Heatles” contingent heard prominently throughout the building. In the first quarter everybody bore witness to an offensive onslaught by James that would be consistent throughout the night. 23 points on 9-9 from the floor and 5-6 from the charity stripe in the first quarter. Lebron did most of his damage on mid-range jumpers scoring on 4 different Magic defenders (Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkgolu, Earl Clark, and Quentin Richardson). Thanks to a J Rich bank shot 3 at the first quarter’s buzzer, the Magic only trailed 30-26 despite Lebron’s barrage.
With James’s on the bench to begin the 2nd quarter Orlando was unable to take a lead with 3point shots going awry (1-9 in the quarter). Lebron re-entered the came with 6:39 remaining in the quarter and helped the Heat extend the lead to 55-45 at the midway point. Orlando’s half was marred by poor shooting in every aspect. 42.9% from the floor, 25% from three, and 54.5% from the line. Dwight Howard was able to keep things respectable for Orlando with his 16 points and 8 rebounds. Turkgolu added 11 to help the Magic keep pace.
The 3rd quarter didn’t provide much reprieve for the Magic men. Howard fouled Dwayne Wade at the 9:43 mark and Wade crashed to floor with his back writhing in pain. Ironically the Orlando Magic arena DJ played Smooth Criminal as Wade was helped to the bench “Annie are you ok…are you ok Annie…you’ve been struck by a smooth criminal.” Wade made both free throws then jogged to the locker room with a lower back contusion but did turn out to be OK with a return in the 4th quarter. With the Magic down 65-50 at the 6:23 mark the crowd was subdued and only mildly moved by Orlando baskets. Jameer Nelson, sensing the moment, became aggressive and scored 9pts in the quarter but Miami stretched the lead to 16 leading 79-63 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The Magic were down by 23 with 7:40 left in the game and looked dead in the water. Many Orlando fans headed towards the parking lot. Media members closed their laptops and shook hands as they prepared to get quotes from what was not a very exciting game up to that point. Then the Magic showed why they are a championship contender.
A 21-4 Orlando run highlighted by 6 three pointers gave Miami a scare and a probable taste of things to come when the two teams tangle again. Lebron made facial expressions after multiple baskets in the 4th quarter that seemed to have sheer contempt for Orlando’s audacity at a comeback. Orlando was not deterred. Nelson, and Jason Richardson (21 combined points in the quarter) were magical in the final 6 minutes of the game. They were assisted by Ryan Anderson and Gilbert Arenas but the comeback again fell short. With 6.9 seconds left to play and Orlando down 103-100, Anderson missed a tough 3 point shot fading right. A shot that seemed to take an eternity to reach the rim for both teams.
Needless to say the talk after the game was about James and the poor free throw shooting of the Magic. The Magic finished 16-31 from the free throw line with Howard shooting 3-13 and only 1 point in the 2nd half. Coach Van Gundy stood behind Howard saying “Yeah he struggled at the line tonight….but the guy played 48 freaking minutes with everyone around him and the whole thing. I’ve got nothing but praise for what he did tonight.” In regards to Lebron Van Gundy said “His numbers say that he’s a pretty mediocre jump shooter, and tonight he was a great jump shooter. We did good a job keeping him out of the paint.”
When asked about the monster line he posted Lebron said “Just playing this team got me going. We understand that this wasn’t just any regular game. There was a lot of things said about us during the off season that came from within this (Orlando) organization. We just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and come make a statement.”
It seems Coach Van Gundy understood the statement the Heat were trying to make. “Right now Boston and Miami have separated themselves and Chicago has a pretty significant advantage on us” said Van Gundy. “I think that we can get there in 10 weeks, I really do, but you can’t say that right now were right there with those teams.” Quite frankly this team is too good offensively to not improve in the 10 week time frame before the playoffs begin but questions continue to circle regarding a 2nd consistent scorer and depth in the front court. The two teams meet for the final time in the regular season March 3 in Miami. Orlando will undoubtedly be seeking vengeance and to make an even clear statement heading into the playoffs.
Some quick hitters for your viewing and listening pleasure from the game this evening:
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com