Heat look to start new winning streak against Magic
MIAMI — Thirteen, as it turned out, was indeed an unlucky number for the Miami Heat.
The Heat had its 13-game win streak — the longest in the NBA this season and the longest in league history for a sub-.500 team — terminated on Saturday night in a loss at the Philadelphia 76ers.
Now Miami (24-31) returns home to face the Orlando Magic (20-36) on Monday night. The Magic may again be without starting small forward Aaron Gordon, who has missed three straight games due to a foot injury.
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Meanwhile, the Heat entered Sunday just 1 1/2 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Miami was also just 2 1/2 games behind the Chicago Bulls for seventh place.
That seven seed is important because that would allow the Heat the chance to avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
Just the fact that the Heat is talking about playoff positioning is amazing considering that Miami was 11-30 just one month ago.
But that’s what happens when you post one of the most improbable win streaks in NBA history.
“I know everybody wants some kind of answer about that, but it’s never been about the streak,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team hasn’t lost a home game since Jan. 1.
“We have a very important game on Monday against a team that is near us in the standings. We have to get back to our game.”
The Heat are hoping to get starting shooting guard Dion Waiters (ankle injury) back in time for Orlando.
“He’s a big part of this team,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “We want the best for him. Hopefully he will get better (by) Monday.”
Waiters, who has missed three straight games, is third on the team in scoring (15.5 points). His improved play was one of the major reasons why the Heat was able to go streaking.
Emerging as a third scoring option after Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside, Waiters exceeded his average nine times during the streak, getting 20 or more points five times and surpassing 30 points twice.
Another key has been reserve forward James Johnson, who enters Monday having scored 20 or more points in three straight games for the first time in his NBA career.
And that — more than anything — says it all about the coaching performance turned in so far this season by Spoelstra, who has extracted career years out of so many of his players.
In fact, most of the Heat players are either undrafted rookies making unexpected contributions (Rodney McGruder, Okaro White) or veterans having the most productive years of their careers so far (James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed and Whiteside).
Waiters isn’t on that list — his career high in scoring was 15.9, less than half a point higher than his current average — but he is close. And the same can be said for Dragic, who is averaging 20.0 points while his career high is 20.3.
Meanwhile, the Magic will enter AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday having lost four straight games in yet another lost season.
The Magic are headed toward their fifth straight losing season and their fifth straight year without a playoff berth.
You would think that four straight years of lottery picks would provide a boost for Orlando — but that hasn’t happened.
In the offseason, the Magic went for it, acquiring nine new players, including veterans such as Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, DJ Augustin and Bismack Biyombo. But those moves have not worked as the Magic enter Monday having lost 12 of their past 15 games.
That team slump has put the pressure on Magic general manger Rob Hennigan, who is in his fifth season in this role.
Magic CEO Alex Martins told The Orlando Sentinel that no decision will be made on Hennigan until after the season.
“We don’t evaluate any individual in midseason,” Martens told the newspaper. “Traditionally, we do that in a comprehension fashion at the end of each season.”