First came "The Decision." Then the expectations. Now the pressure is on the Miami Heat more than ever.
Even from the White House.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 18 rebounds, J.J. Redick scored 20 points and the Orlando Magic beat Miami 104-95 on Wednesday night to hand the Heat’s All-Star trio its first three-game losing streak.
The slower-than-expected start for the Heat has resonated all the way to Washington, where President Barack Obama said before the game in an interview with ABC that it "takes some time for the team to come together."
Nobody could have imagined it would take this long.
"If we had the answer right now, we wouldn’t be sitting at one game over .500," LeBron James said of his Heat’s 8-7 start. "We’re a few games out of first. We’re a few games out of eighth."
And they just hit a new low.
Jameer Nelson had 17 points and a career-high 14 assists, coming up with some big shots late to help Orlando pull away and avenge a 26-point loss at Miami earlier this season.
James had 25 points, Chris Bosh finished with 21 and Dwyane Wade scored 18 for Miami in the latest blow to the collection of stars who came together this summer hoping for a championship. Miami also lost to Memphis and Indiana in the last week, but the loss to its Sunshine State rival might sting most.
Even Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, told of Obama’s comments, joined in the fun.
"I know there’s a lot of time in the day, but I’d be more confident if he didn’t know what was going on in the NBA," Van Gundy said, chuckling about Obama’s remarks. "We got to get some people back to work. I don’t think he needs to be worried about turning the Heat around. Let (Heat coach) Erik (Spoelstra) worry about that, because Erik certainly isn’t turning the economy around."
At this rate, Spoelstra might contribute to the job losses.
The Heat’s disappointing start has fueled fodder for the Heat’s critics. Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson intimated that Spoelstra’s job could be in jeopardy if the Heat don’t start winning more – and fast.
Miami’s struggles certainly delight its neighbor to the north.
After the Heat acquired James this summer, Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith questioned the two-time MVP’s competitiveness for leaving Cleveland. Heat President Pat Riley then took a shot at Smith’s personnel decisions, and Van Gundy – the former Heat coach – fired back at Riley.
This time, Orlando finally responded with its play.
On one stretch late in the fourth quarter, Nelson made back-to-back shots and then came up with one of his best defensive plays of the year. With James and Wade on a 2-on-1 break, Nelson jumped up and swatted James’ alley-oop pass to Wade, Nelson drove back down and found Redick for a jumper that put Orlando ahead 95-89.
Nelson also made some big free throws in the final minutes to put away the game. But he was ejected with 39 seconds remaining after receiving his second technical foul of the game, the last for taunting Eddie House.
Not that it mattered.
The Magic had already put their stamp on this one.
"We talked in the huddle that we had worked so hard to win this game and to not let that lead we had built completely slip away," said Redick, who started in place of an injured Vince Carter. "It was a big win."
The Heat, hardly resembling a championship contender, went down 12 points in the first half but managed to keep it close. James was showered with boos – reaching a decibel usually reserved only for Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando – every time he touched the ball, but he and Wade came on strong late to push the Heat ahead 88-87 midway through the fourth quarter.
Then it all fell apart – again.
"We’re going through a tough time right now," Spoelstra said. "There’s no question about it. The guys want to do it. They want to make it right. Guys are competing, and we just have to go through the process."
The win was huge in more ways than one for the Magic.
They’ve put the Heat in an early hole deeper than they could’ve ever imagined, and Miami also has several other concerns – most notably injuries.
Bosh left the game briefly in the first quarter with back spasms and never looked the same; Udonis Haslem’s season may be over after surgery this week to repair a torn ligament in his left foot; Mike Miller isn’t expected back until after Christmas because of a broken thumb and ligament damage; Wade has been playing through a sprained left wrist; James has been dealing with a shin problem for a couple weeks; and Juwan Howard is playing with a broken nose.
"It will eventually" turn around, Wade said. "Right now it’s not. I wish I had the answer to it."
NOTES: Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. was in the crowd. … The Heat and Magic don’t play again until Feb. 3 in Orlando.