Despite playing against a team heading towards the lottery, the playoff-bound Miami Heat fell apart against the Orlando Magic and put their home court desires in serious danger with a 112-109 loss Friday night. The Heat played meaningful basketball and stayed in the game for four quarters but poor decisions and execution down the stretch would hinder the Heat from winning when it mattered most.
Nikola Vucevic, who missed the last meeting between both teams, killed the Heat with a game-high 29 points and six rebounds. His partner in crime, Evan Fournier, led the Magic too with 28 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. The duo also played a crucial part in preventing the Heat from making a rally at the end of the game.
Following a couple turnovers and hoisted shots late in the shot clock, Josh Richardson sinked in a three-pointer with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter to bring the Heat within one. But on the ensuing possession the Heat would falter after a series of misfortunes.
Whiteside, who missed a pass from Dwyane Wade, got smacked in the head by Vucevic and fell to the floor. The uncalled hit saw the fumbled ball quickly go to Elfrid Payton, who converted on a And-1 layup on the other end. As the Heat center walked to the bench in pain, he blurted something that cost him a technical and the Heat four straight points after free throws by Fournier and Payton.
Later, down by five, Wade knocked down two free throws to get the Heat within three. On the other end Payton went for a layup but Whiteside, who came back in the game, got his revenge and rejected the shot. Justise Winslow quickly corralled the ball and the Heat got it to Joe Johnson, one of the team's clutchest players, who connected on a triple to tie the game 109-109 with 30 seconds left to play.
The Magic perfectly ran a smooth play, a pick-and-roll, that saw a cutting dunk by Vucevic put the Magic up by two. With the opportunity in their hands to tie the game again, the Heat failed to do so, instead turning the ball over after being unable to communicate a pass, consequently sending Fournier back to the line.
The French guard fortunately split his free throws, giving the Heat the chance to take the game to overtime. But with no time-outs and having to inbound the ball from full court, Wade heaved a contested shot from half court, going nowhere near the basket, as the buzzer sounded and Heat lost.
Although no Heat player definitively spearheaded the way at the end, seven different players scored in double-figures led by Wade's 17 points. Goran Dragic, after having a career-high 12 rebounds yesterday, put up 15 points, eight rebounds (five offensive) and six assists. Deng, who had seven rebounds in the first quarter, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Off the bench, Whiteside had his fifth straight double-double with 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. Richardson, who played the full fourth quarter for the second straight game, contributed with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists and Gerald Green chipped in with 11 points.
In addition to Orlando's one-two punch of Vucevic and Fournier, point guard Payton showed off his potential with 16 points and 10 assists. Victor Oladipo had 13 points and four rebounds but had to leave the game early after getting hurt trying to take a charge on whiteside. The fall costed him six stitches above the left eye.
With the critical loss, the Heat(46-33) fall one game behind the Atlanta Hawks(47-32) and Boston Celtics(47-32) who currently occupy the third and fourth seed, respectively. Miami needs to secure at least the fourth seed to guarantee home court advantage through the first round.
The Heat will get back into action Sunday as they get revenge on the Magic in Miami @ 6:00 p.m.