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With just a 34 point output in the second half and a huge fourth quarter by Dwyane Wade, the Orlando Magic – who hold the third-best record in the Eastern Conference (29-17) – fell to the current second seed in the East, the Miami Heat (33-11), in south Florida on Sunday night, 91-81.
“We have to do a better job of not turning the ball over,” said Magic center Dwight Howard, who led the team with 18 points and 11 rebounds. “That’s what gave them a chance to get out early, get the lead and keep the lead. We’ve just got to do a better job. It’s the small things that are going to matter in a game like this.”
Orlando turned the ball over 20 times against a Heat team that has proven to be one of the best defensive units in the league over the past two seasons.
Along with being less than thrilled about the extraordinary amount of turnovers his team committed, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy also took the defensive intensity of his players at the outset of the game into question.
“Our effort defensively early in the game was not there,” said Van Gundy. “We did not come to play. That’s inexcusable particularly playing on the road against a team this good and then the 20 turnovers.”
Miami came out smoking in the first quarter with 31 points, and had totaled 50 before halftime. Forward Chris Bosh’s team high 18 points in the first half on 7/9 shooting was a key component in the Heat’s 53% first half shooting percentage.
Despite shooting only 41% over the first 24 minutes, Orlando found themselves only down by three entering the locker room after a difficult three point play down the right baseline by Wade untied the game with 48 seconds left in the second quarter.
Wade led all Miami scorers at the game’s conclusion with 31 points. He tallied six rebounds and four assists, as well.
Forward Quentin Richardson, guard Jason Richardson, and Nelson all finished in double-figured scoring for the Magic.
After playing from behind since losing an early 7-6 lead, Orlando finally found themselves in the driver’s seat, 57-54, with 8:26 remaining in the third when an interception of a ball Bosh saved from going out of bounds, turned into a fastbreak opportunity and a three point play on the other end for guard Jason Richardson.
Orlando scored just nine points on the break, but did a quality job of limiting Miami’s transition game, which they excel at with athletes like James and Wade. The Heat had only 13 points in the open court.
But Miami made sure to take away Orlando’s strength as well – the three pointer. The Magic, who attempt and make more three’s than any other team in basketball, shot just 9/25, 36% from behind the arc.
The teams were abysmal in the third quarter, shooting a combined 13/40 from the floor. A LeBron James bank shot, with .8 left in the period, gave the Heat a 67-63 lead entering the fourth.
With just 14 points overall, James had a relatively quiet night as far as scoring was concerned. However, he still had a major impact with 12 boards and seven assists.
The Heat went on an 11-2 run that ended around the four minute mark and outscored the Magic 24-18 in the final quarter to hold on rather comfortably for their 13th consecutive home win. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 14 game home winning streak has bettered Miami’s current run this season.
Wade was unstoppable over the final minutes, dropping 12 in a row at one point, and 14 of his 31.
“I don’t think (Wade) ever had a bad game against us,” said Van Gundy. “Every game he’s played it’s been a great game. We never do a decent job on him.”
Miami and Orlando split the season series two games apiece.
The Heat will look to continue their winning ways at home when they host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
The Magic are right back at it on Monday night, as the team with the best record in the league, the 37-10 Chicago Bulls, pay a visit.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/