ORLANDO — There’s one good thing that came from Friday’s game for Miami — the Heat have no games remaining against the Magic this season.
Orlando continued its recent dominance over Miami with a 110-99 win Friday at Amway Center. With the victory, the Magic took the season series over the Heat 3-1 — the first time Orlando has won the season series outright since 2009.
“We’ve just never been able to get a handle on these guys this season,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Magic. “It’s frustrating for everybody in that locker room.”
The Magic (23-39) controlled the game from the start and led by as much as 19 points behind standout performances from Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 9 rebounds) and Aaron Gordon (21 points, 10 rebounds).
The Heat (28-34) struggled offensively, shooting 38.5 percent from the field. Miami’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters combined to shoot 4-of-25 from the field.
The game produced some interesting substitutions for the Heat, as Waiters did not play in the fourth quarter and Hassan Whiteside — who finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds — was pulled earlier than usual in the first and third quarters.
“Just searching for any kind of lineup that would match and exceed that energy,” Spoelstra said of those decisions. “We were on our heels most of the night. So, it wasn’t any particular player. I clearly didn’t have the answers tonight because I was searching, probing, trying to find any kind of lineup out there.”
Miami must turn the page quickly, as they host LeBron James’ Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back set on Saturday night.
With the Pistons idle Friday, the loss dropped the Heat to 1.5 games out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot occupied by Detroit.
“Thankfully we play tomorrow night,” Spoelstra said. “These are the emotions. I love all of these emotions and going through it with these guys in this locker room. I told them that after the game. For the next five weeks, it’s going to be incredibly competitive, very emotional and there will be a lot of highs and lows. We have to maintain our focus on the task at hand, and do it collectively.”
Here are our five takeaways from the game …
Magic continue to dominate Heat: Miami’s 108-96 win over Orlando in the season opener seems like so long ago. Since then, the Magic have outscored the Heat by a combined score of 362-336 to win three straight matchups over Miami. Over that three-game winning streak, it’s looked like Orlando has solved Miami’s defense. The Magic made 49.5 percent of their shots in the three wins over the Heat this season. Considering that Miami entered Friday with the NBA’s sixth-best field goal percentage defense at 44.7 percent, the Magic’s success against the Heat’s defense is pretty incredible. Miami has won 17 of their past 21 games, with two of those four losses coming against Orlando.
“You tip your hat to Orlando because for three straight games, they’ve been able to outspeed us and outhustle us, and put a lot of points on the board when we take pride in defending teams,” Spoelstra said.
Where’s the defense?: The Heat know their formula to win games this season is built around their defense. For the most part, the defense has been there for Miami this season. The Heat entered Friday with the NBA’s sixth-best defensive rating, allowing 103.9 points per 100 possessions. But the defense was not there for the Heat against the Magic. Orlando scored 110 points on 50 percent shooting. It was a disappointing performance, especially after the Heat had held their past five opponents to under 44 percent shooting.
“It’s not about offense. It’s about our defense,” Dragic said. “We just didn’t play well. … Transition, in the paint, they just pushed the ball and we weren’t getting back. Usually we were 1-on-1 defending and it’s tough when you’re backpedaling and the guy is attacking. Everybody needs to be in the paint and try to help each other. Tonight we didn’t do that.”
Brothers Johnson making a big difference: Miami’s bench tandem of James Johnson and Tyler Johnson continue to impress. They have even earned the nickname, “The Brothers Johnson,” which was the name of an R&B and funk band from the late 1970s and early 80s. The Johnsons were sharp as usual Friday, combining to record 29 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists off the bench.
Good news on injury front: Guard Dion Waiters (left ankle soreness) and center Willie Reed (right ankle bursitis) were both listed as questionable for Friday’s game in Orlando. But both ended up playing. Waiters and Reed clearly aren’t 100 percent, but they battled through their injuries. Waiters struggled, scoring three points on 1-of-11 shooting. Reed played limited minutes, finishing with two points and four rebounds in eight minutes. While Waiters’ ankle soreness has not forced him to miss any time recently, Reed had missed the past two games as he recovered from ankle bursitis. After Friday’s shootaround session in advance of the Heat’s game against the Magic, Reed said he felt a lot better but still felt pain on lateral movements. For Waiters, his ankle soreness has been an ongoing issue since spraining his left ankle on Feb. 6 in Minnesota.
“I haven’t had one of these nights in so long,” Waiters said of his poor shooting performance. “But you need it to get back in the lab, work. I’m pissed that we lost. But at the end of the day, we need to come out with a sense of urgency and know what we’re playing for and fighting for. Once we figure that out we’ll will be in a better position.”
Josh Richardson still working his way back: It’s been a challenging sophomore NBA season for Richardson. Multiple injuries have prevented him from catching a rhythm. The latest setback was a sprained left foot that forced Richardson to miss 19 games. Since the guard returned from that injury in Miami’s first game following the All-Star break on Feb. 24, he’s slowly worked his way back. Richardson recorded seven points and three rebounds Friday. He’s averaging 3.6 points on 28.6 percent shooting in five games since returning from injury.