Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
After months of the Orlando Magic yapping away and tossing verbal grenades towards the Miami Heat in the offseason, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they got what was coming to them last night. In their regular season home opener in front of a nationally televised audience and a sellout crowd draped in black, the Heat were able to defeat the Magic by the score of 96-70. Dwyane Wade killed Orlando, as he always has in the past, putting up 26 points, six rebounds, and two blocks. LeBron James was the maestro of the destruction, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, and seven assists. Chris Bosh chipped in with 11 points and 10 rebounds. And the Heat got excellent contributions from the bench. For the Magic, there were only two players that had a pulse when the game mattered — Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass. Howard had 19 points and seven rebounds while dominating in the first half on offense like he never has before. Bass had nine points, six rebounds, but most importantly, he played with excellent energy and effort (one of the few to do that last night) on the defensive side of the ball. It seemed like only Howard and Bass were the players on the Orlando roster that were prepared for Miami’s fury.
The first half of yesterday’s game between the Magic and Heat was everything that people envisioned. It was physical. It was defensive-minded. It was bloody.
When J.J. Redick got popped in the face (below the eye, to be specific) by a James’ elbow as he took a charge and had to get stitches in the locker room to quell the bleeding, he unintentionally served as the sacrificial lamb to christen the rivalry.
It was on.
In the first quarter, Howard was otherworldly. Nearly every prognosticator assumed that Howard would have a field day against Miami’s frontline and he did, but it was the way he scored his points that was most impressive and signaled that perhaps he’s finally evolving into the two-way dominating player that everyone expected him to be when he entered the league back in 2004. Lefty hooks, righty hooks, spin moves, jumpshots, Howard put on a display that had the internet abuzz. After taking a few mid-range jumpers in the first quarter and missing them, Howard began to get in a groove in the second quarter and made a few shots in a row. The footwork, the confidence, Howard had everything going for him and them some.
Schematically speaking, Howard generated many of his points in either 4-out/1-in offensive sets or 3-out/2-in offensive sets (when Bass was in the game). More often than not, the Heat were content to let Howard get his. Instead, it was clear that head coach Erik Spoelstra’s strategy was to shut down the perimeter attack for the Magic.
If it wasn’t for Howard’s 19 points in the first half and the contributions from Orlando’s bench, this game would have been over in a hurry. For whatever reason, the Magic rarely ran pick and rolls with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter. It’s odd because when Nelson and Carer did execute the pick and roll on offense, they were able to get some buckets. Because Orlando went to Howard so much on the low block, it seemed as if the players got complacent because he was having success. Almost every time Howard touched the basketball offensively, he scored. That allowed the Magic to get in a comfort zone that doomed them in the second half.
That was one issue. The other issue is that Orlando’s defense, starting in the third quarter, was not very good. Needless to say, Miami took advantage.
[11:36] James makes 25-foot three point jumpshot (Arroyo assist)
[10:57] Wade makes 25-foot three point jumpshot
[10:07] Wade makes 26-foot three point jumpshot
[9:45] Bosh makes free throw 2 of 2
[9:17] James makes 13-foot jumpshot
[8:55] James makes 9-foot jumpshot
At the 8:55 mark in the third quarter, head coach Stan Van Gundy took a timeout as the Magic suddenly trailed by 20 points in the blink of an eye.
For Orlando, it was checkmate.
The Heat made it look easy on offense during that timeframe. On James three-point shot, Howard flashed on Bosh along the baseline and double-teamed him. Thus, Bosh kicked the ball out to Carlos Arroyo on the perimeter, who proceeded to make a touch pass to James and allowed him to make a three-pointer in rhythm. On Wade’s back-to-back threes, Carter sagged off of him too much on the perimeter for fear of letting him penetrate into the lane. On Bosh’s free-throw attempts, they came about after James executed a 3/4 pick and roll with him. Lastly, James got his points in the paint from dribble-penetration. It’s the type of offensive display that shows it’s going to be nearly impossible for the Magic to slow down James, Wade, and Bosh.
The scary part in this nightmare is that James, the best player in the NBA, had just 15 points in the game. James was more than content to play the facilitator role on offense for Miami, and the results speak for themselves.
Defensively, the Heat were just as impressive.
Orlando, aside from Howard in the low post, could do little on the perimeter because Miami’s team defense was too suffocating. It’s no secret that James and Wade are two of the best defenders in the league and now that they’re together, the Magic’s shooters could do little to score against them. James, especially, was everywhere on defense. Everywhere. This was a problem for Orlando because at the small forward position, Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus aren’t major threats on offense. Because that is the case, that allowed James to roam on defense and be a disruptive force whenever he wanted to be. Same with Wade when Carter wasn’t on the court.
More can be said about the Magic’s loss but the point is this, the Heat are nearly an impossible matchup to deal with. That’s the reality.
Howard can get his, sure, but it makes no difference when no one else for Orlando is able to generate offense for themselves. In theory, Nelson should have an advantage against Arroyo but he wasn’t aggressive enough. Nelson has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders because he’s the floor general, and the one to generate the necessary ball movement for the Magic to succeed offensively. There was little of that against Miami. Carter had trouble scoring against Wade and as Orlando is currently constructed, there’s almost no way to fix that problem. As mentioned previously, because the Magic don’t have a dynamic scorer at small forward, James can do whatever he wants on defense and provide weak-side help on the likes of Nelson, Carter, Lewis, and Howard if he chooses to do so. Lewis didn’t have much success against Bosh or Udonis Haslem. Whew.
Van Gundy has his work cut out for him to figure out what type of lineup he can trot out there that can score against the Heat. Then Van Gundy has to worry about the possibility of James going nova the next time the two teams meet.
It’s one game and it’s premature to pass judgment on Orlando when they played on a back-to-back, but they got a reality check.
The Heat are going to be a problem.