Magic, Heat brace for high-stakes showdown
The Orlando Magic, who will visit the Miami Heat on Tuesday night in a game with serious playoff implications, appear to be coming on strong.
Orlando (36-38) just finished the first 5-0 home stretch in franchise history and now trails Miami (36-37) by just a half-game in the race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The Magic have used the same starting lineup for 27 consecutive games, and that continuity is showing positive effects, including Monday night's 119-98 win over a talented Philadelphia 76ers team.
Orlando could be on the verge of ending its six-year playoff drought.
"We have great respect for them and what they've done, especially recently," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Magic. "They're playing really good basketball, and you expect that from a Steve Clifford-coached team."
Orlando's defense was stellar in Monday's second half, holding the 76ers scoreless for nearly 12 minutes, forcing 15 consecutive missed shots during a 30-5 run.
Center Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier added 24 points and a team-high seven assists.
"We needed this win," Vucevic said. "We have a tough road trip coming up, starting with Miami."
76ers coach Brett Brown was impressed with the Magic.
"They were desperate, and they played like it," Brown said. "Nik Vucevic is a really difficult matchup. Fournier had a fantastic night."
Orlando got a big boost from backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who posted 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes.
Carter-Williams, the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013-2014, signed a second 10-day contract earlier in the day.
"I think that's my job with the team -- bringing energy and pushing the ball up the court," Carter-Williams said. "I'm here to make the little plays. After that, the big plays will come."
Miami figures to be without point guard Justise Winslow (right thigh bruise) and wing Rodney McGruder (left knee soreness). Both of them have missed five straight games, and Winslow was additionally impacted on Monday with food poisoning.
Orlando is fairly healthy, although rookie 7-foot center Mo Bamba is out due to an injury to his left leg. He is averaging 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds while leading the Magic with 1.4 blocks per game.
The Heat on Tuesday will honor retired forward Chris Bosh, part of Miami's big three -- with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- during the franchise's run toward four straight Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships from 2011 to 2014.
Bosh, who was forced to retire due to blood clots, will dominate Tuesday's halftime show, and his presence figures to add to the hype that already exists for this game on both the Magic and Heat sides.
"We're treating this like a playoff game, and (the Magic are) treating this like a playoff game, too," Spoelstra said. "That's the way it should be. Everybody feels alive on both sides.
"This will be a great night. We're honoring one of our favorites (Bosh). It's going to be an electric atmosphere. It should be fun."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 26, 2019