ORLANDO, Fla. – The Miami Heat have compiled more victories during a winning streak that threatens to make NBA history than the Orlando Magic have all season.
But after coming close twice to defeating the Heat and playing them on even terms for the better part of three quarters Monday night, the Magic aren’t prepared to ordain LeBron James and company as unbeatable.
“Everybody’s beatable,” guard Jameer Nelson said after his game-high 27 points were unable to slow down the Heat juggernaut. “But those guys are playing so well right now, it’s tough for anybody to beat them. We are human, and we can be beaten in anything. It’s just that somebody has to find a way.”
“I mean, they’re beatable. They’ve lost before,” Harris said. “But they’re on a hot streak right now. They’re a great team, and they’re defending champions for a reason.”
The Magic didn’t have to deal with Dwyane Wade, who sat out his second game in a row because of a sore right knee. And Chris Bosh was on the bench when the Heat went on their game-changing 20-2 run late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.
It was James finding Ray Allen open for one of the Heat’s 15 3-pointers or hitting Chris Andersen on a lob for a dunk that opened the floodgates as much as his scoring prowess. The end result was a 108-94 victory that extended the Heat’s streak to 27 straight going into Wednesday night at Chicago.
“It’s hard because he is one of the best players in the world,” Magic second-year forward Maurice Harkless said of James. “And he has Hall of Fame shooters on his team. You double (-team) him, and you leave Mario Chalmers open, Ray Allen open, Shane Battier open — all guys who consistently knock down that shot. Sometimes you’ve got to pick your poison and hope you can find a way to get stops.”
When the Magic took the Heat into overtime Dec. 31 at Orlando and led 96-93 with less than two minutes to go March 6 at Miami, they held a sizeable advantage in offensive rebounds. That was primarily because of center Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed more than 20 rebounds in both games.
But with Vucevic unavailable because of a mild concussion suffered a week ago, the Magic had no such edge this time around. Coach Jacque Vaughn started rookie Kyle O’Quinn in Vucevic’s place, but he played less than half the game as the Magic went for the most part with a three-guard offense of Nelson, E’Twaun Moore and Beno Udrih.
The Magic trailed by 20 points in the third quarter at Miami before rallying to take the lead in a game where Vucevic, Harkless and Harris all fouled out. It marked one of several times that the Heat have struggled with some of the NBA’s lesser lights during their assault on the 33-game mark set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
“We did play them tough,” O’Quinn said. “I don’t know if it’s a different energy we bring, or they might underestimate us. Who knows?”
Forward Al Harrington, who entered the league after the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era wrapped up a run of six titles in eight years, sounded reluctant to place the Heat on that level just yet. When asked what it would take to beat them, he replied, “A hot-shooting night.” But the Heat are 9-2 in games where their opponent have shot 50 percent or better.
“That’s all it takes,” Harrington said. “They will lose eventually. I just don’t know who it’s going to be right now.”
The Magic will face the Heat for a final time at Miami on April 17, the last day of the regular season. If the streak is still intact then, it will be interesting to see how much playing time James and the starters receive with the first round of the playoffs right around the corner.
“That’s a very good ballclub led by a very good player,” Vaughn said. “It’s impressive, what they’re doing.”