For 3½ quarters this was a great game for Heat fans to watch. It was a great combination of offensive efficiency and defensive execution, and it appeared that the recently hobbled Miami lineup was getting back to their winning ways of December and early January. On this night however, things changed quickly and the Heat had to sweat this one out at the end.
The 1st quarter of this game was pretty much LeBron James vs. the Orlando Magic. LeBron got the Heat out to an early advantage and even scored 16 straight points towards the end of the quarter, but the Magic kept pace, nipping at Miami's heels the whole way. LeBron finished the opening 12 minutes with 23 points on a perfect 9-for-9 from the field. The Heat's advantage at the end of the quarter was only 4 points though, as Jason Richardson threw up a trey at the buzzer that went off glass and in.
Miami continued their solid play into the 2nd quarter, as did LeBron. He hit his next two shots, carrying his game-opening streak to 11-for-11. After that, he missed his next two shots late in the 1st half right around the time Orlando cut the Heat's double-digit lead down to 4. Miami then clamped down on D, which usually gives them an offensive boost. This would be no exception and the Heat closed the half on a 7-1 run to take a 10-point lead into the break.
LeBron opened the 2nd half scoring by drilling his first triple of the night. Shortly after that, things got very scary very quickly for the Heat. Dwyane Wade came down the baseline to attempt a layup but was fouled hard by Dwight Howard. Dwyane came straight down on his back/tailbone area, hitting the ground with a thunderous thud that scared the crap outta me.
He took, and made, his two free throws and then immediately headed to the locker room. After being examined by officials of both teams his return was called questionable, but he would ease the minds of Heat fans everywhere when he returned to the game for the beginning of the 4th quarter. By then, Miami had extended their lead thanks in large part to LeBron James, who finished the 3rd quarter with 40 points.
After closing the 3rd on a 9-0 run to go up by 16, the Heat knew exactly what to expect from Orlando in the 4th; lots of shots from beyond the arc. As if to say ‘we can beat you at your own game', Miami kicked off the final quarter with James Jones and Eddie House each dropping in a trey. D-Wade then made a couple nice outside shots to show that he was just fine and pump the Heat lead up to 20.
Just when you thought that the Heat had this one in the bag, here came Orlando finally hitting some 3-pointers. Miami's big 23-point lead evaporated in the blink of an eye as the Magic went on a potentially game-changing 21-4 run. Suddenly they were within 6 points and had over two minutes left on the clock to work with. For the first time pretty much all night the fans (that were still there) were loud and excited.
LeBron James would do what he could to stop the bleeding, drilling a cold-blooded straightaway 3-pointer that put Miami up by 9 with 1:29 left. A shot that would normally act as a dagger was not the case tonight. Over the next minute of game time the Heat would make just 2 of 6 from the charity stripe, and Orlando took advantage.
With 10 seconds left Jameer Nelson hit a triple that brought the Magic to within 3. As if things couldn't get worse, Mike Miller's inbound pass went off of LeBron's hands, off his leg and right out of bounds. The ball would go right back to Orlando and Ryan Anderson got a great look at a game tying shot but it was just a little long and clanked off the back-iron. Finally, mercifully, it was over.
Before the game against Cleveland on Monday, Erik Spoelstra made it clear that he wanted a ‘complete' effort from his team. The Heat got the W but not until after letting the Cavs come all the way back from being down by 19 to trailing by just 3. With two days in-between games this week, you'd think that Miami would've been mentally prepared to bring a full 48-minute effort last night in Orlando.
Obviously it would've been much worse had the Heat blown this one. With 7½ minutes left they held a 23-point lead that quickly began to dissipate, and that was while still having the Big 3 out there. Miami made just 2 of their final 11 shots and missed 5 of the 12 free throws they took in the final 90 seconds. After playing so well for so long, the Heat almost gave this game away.
- LeBron James finished with 51 points, the most he's scored in a Heat uniform. It's also the most scored by any player in the NBA so far this season.
- James also picked up 11 rebounds, 8 assists and hit 14-of-17 from the foul line.
- The stat line may not show it but Erick Dampier had possibly his best game in a Heat uniform last night. He played great D on Dwight Howard while adding 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks.
- Dwyane Wade had a rough night. He took only 12 shots, his lowest total since making 7-of-9 against Detroit back on December 1st.
- Wade hit just 4 of his 8 free throws, including 1-of-4 in the final minute.
- Mike Miller came off the bench and grabbed 11 rebounds to go with 5 points. He made his only shot from downtown.
- Orlando took 33 shots from beyond the arc, making 12 (36.4%). That's not nearly as bad as their 16-for-31 effort from the foul line (51.6%)
The Heat will complete their short 2-game road trip tonight in Charlotte. Playing back-to-back games on the road, it sure would've been nice if Erik Spoelstra could have rested his starters during the 4th quarter against Orlando. Hopefully that doesn't come back to bite them in the butt.