Preview: Heat, Magic meet in intrastate showdown of hobbled teams
TV: FOX Sports Sun; FOX Sports Florida in North/Central Florida
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
MIAMI — In the Orlando Magic-Miami Heat games the past three seasons, one noteworthy matchup has featured centers Nikola Vucevic of Orlando and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside.
Considered among the league’s top tier centers, Vucevic and Whiteside are usually key reasons for their respective teams’ performances in the rivalry between Southeast Division clubs.
But the Vucevic-Whiteside dynamic won’t be there when the Magic visit the Heat on Tuesday night. Instead of lining up for the tip-off and battling each other in the blocks, Vucevic and Whiteside will be in street clothes as injury victims.
Vucevic became the Magic’s latest casualty after he fractured his left thumb in Saturday’s 130-103 loss to Washington. Vucevic, who is averaging 17.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, will be sidelined six-to-eight weeks.
“I’m disappointed for Vuc,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said after Saturday’s game. “That’s the first thought — a young guy who is down. You feel bad for him.”
The Heat, meanwhile, have been without Whiteside the last 13 games and don’t expect his return for the foreseeable future. A bone bruise to his left knee has limited Whiteside to 15 games this season.
Bismack Biyombo will replace Vucevic on Tuesday. Biyombo is averaging 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 15.1 minutes.
“I never change anything in any situation,” Biyombo said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve been in the league long enough. Just me going out there and helping my team and helping my teammates play to the best of their ability.”
Vucevic’s injury is the latest setback for the Magic. Guards Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, and forward Terrence Ross also have been sidelined because of injury and their statuses Tuesday is questionable.
“We have five guys on the floor, not four guys on the floor three guys on the floor,” Vogel said. “Those guys have to go out and compete and get a W.”
The Magic (11-23) have lost eight straight and 18 of their last 21 games. But Orlando has had recent success against the Heat, winning four straight. When the Heat went on a 30-11 run in the second half last season, two of the losses were against the Magic.
“We’ve got to go compete and get a win the next game,” Vogel said.
The Heat (17-16) also have dealt with injuries. In addition to Whiteside, starting guard Dion Waiters will be sidelined indefinitely after spraining his left ankle in Friday’s 113-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Starting point guard Goran Dragic returned to the lineup Saturday against New Orleans after he missed the previous three games because of a left elbow strain.
“We have character, everybody can see that,” Dragic said. “We don’t use excuses. We have a lot of guys who are injured; we’re just going to keep on playing. We can say ‘we’re done’ and go home and not show up. But that’s not us.”
Key reserves Justise Winslow, Miami’s ninth overall draft selection in 2015, remains sidelined because of a knee injury and James Johnson played only eight minutes against New Orleans on Saturday after his return from a three-game absence because of right ankle bursitis.
“We’ll move on and I still think that there are some really good things going on with our team, despite the injuries and some of the adversity that we are going through,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team’s 109-94 loss against the Pelicans.
“We will just have to gather ourselves, get some rest and hopefully get some healthy bodies back for the Orlando Magic game and if we don’t, well, we have enough.”