The Miami Heat needed a clutch shot by LeBron James to beat the Orlando Magic earlier this month to keep their staggering winning streak going.
Injuries to the Magic’s top two scorers will likely keep that from happening this time.
James and the Heat will try to avoid some recent early struggles in order to make things easier on themselves Monday night when they face the Magic seeking a 27th straight win.
Miami (55-14) continues to close in on the Los Angeles Lakers’ record of 33 wins in a row set in 1971-72, but the streak was nearly snapped by Orlando on March 6.
James came through with a go-ahead layup with 3.2 seconds left before Arron Afflalo missed a 40-footer at the buzzer, as the Heat held on to win 97-96 at home.
They also needed some late help from James in their last visit to Orlando, as the superstar put Miami ahead for good by making two free throws in the final seconds of a 112-110 overtime win Dec. 31.
James has totaled 62 points in those two meetings, but those heroics may not be needed since the Magic are expected to be without Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic, who average 15.5 and 12.4 points, respectively.
Afflalo was lost for the season to a strained right hamstring in Friday’s 97-89 loss to Oklahoma City, while Vucevic has missed two games with a concussion.
Orlando has dropped six games in a row, yielding an average of 106.0 points.
Miami may be looking to capitalize on the short-handed Magic after needing to overcome double-digit deficits in each of the past four games.
The latest came Sunday, when the Heat were down 11 early before overpowering league-worst Charlotte 109-77. James led the way with 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
“We’ve been having slow starts,” James said. “But it’s not how we start. It’s how we finish.”
The Heat were without All-Star guard Dwyane Wade on Sunday because of right knee soreness that the team deems as minor, and he’ll also miss this game.
The Heat’s winning streak will be tested in this four-game road trip. After facing Orlando (18-52), they’ll visit Chicago and New Orleans before ending the swing Sunday at Western Conference-leading San Antonio.
Right now, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is just happy that his team is showing some fight since it’s officially eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s just an unbelievable overall effort from every guy,” Vaughn said. “As a coach you want to be proud of your team and what they’re doing. (Friday’s) effort typifies who we want to be.”
Vaughn may be specifically referring to Maurice Harkless, who had a season-high 25 points and nine rebounds while making 11 of 18 from the floor versus the Thunder.
The forward, the 15th overall selection out of St. John’s in last year’s draft, had 12 points, three boards, three steals and two blocks against the Heat on March 6.