Heat, Magic meet for first time since season opener
MIAMI — Florida’s two NBA teams meet in Miami on Tuesday night, and here’s a switch:
Orlando beat Miami 104-101 on opening night, and the teams haven’t met since. But, in the meantime, the Magic have been busy, posting impressive road wins over the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, the Magic swept both games from the LeBron James-led Lakers this season, and that is just the second time in history that Orlando has blanked Los Angeles in the annual series.
“We’re playing better,” said Steve Clifford, who is in his first year as Magic coach after previously directing the Charlotte Hornets. “It’s all about making progress through 82 games.”
The Magic, who have endured six straight seasons without a playoff berth, are led by center Nikola Vucevic, a 28-year-old native of Switzerland.
Vucevic leads Orlando in scoring (21.0) and rebounds (11.3), and he is also a skilled passer, especially for a center (3.8 assists).
“I think compared to previous years, we’ve taken a big step forward,” Vucevic told The Orlando Sentinel. “We’ve had some really big wins. There’s work to do, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Other Magic players to watch include point guard D.J. Augustin, who leads the team in assists and averages 10.6 points; rookie 7-footer Mo Bamba, a reserve center who leads the team in blocks (1.3) while averaging 6.7 points and 4.5 blocks; Aaron Gordon, who averages 16.1 points and 7.2 rebounds; and Evan Fournier, who averages 15.0 points and leads Orlando in steals (1.1).
Meanwhile, the Heat — which had lost six consecutive home games before this past weekend — has gotten back on track with two straight wins.
It was his 11th career 20-20 game and his third this season, and it helped Miami overcome a 19-point first-half deficit.
The winning points were scored by veteran guard Dwyane Wade, who hit two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to break the tie score.
“It’s like putting on an old glove,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked how comfortable he was having Wade with the ball in his hands in the final seconds. “It’s very natural for him to read everything.”
Wade, who is retiring at the end of this season, had 15 points off the bench.
Even so, the Heat nearly lost when a 3-pointer by Utah’s Donovan Mitchell went in and out at the buzzer.
In addition, the injury bug claimed another Heat victim as starting forward Rodney McGruder twisted his right ankle in the first quarter and never returned.
Dragic (knee) has missed seven straight games, Johnson (hamstring) has missed six, Jones (hamstring) has missed two, and Waiters (ankle) has yet to play this season.
With all those injuries, the Heat is having to scratch and claw to try to get wins, and that was the case on Sunday as they went on a 20-0 run during which Utah missed 14 consecutive shots.