LeBron James exploded to the tune of 23 points in the first quarter including 16 straight points en route to a NBA season high 51 points, partnered with 11 rebounds and 8 assists. James at one stage was 11/11 from the field in an offensive clinic in which Orlando were unable to dampen no matter who they threw at him.
The Heat’s win was somewhat dampened by the Magic’s late surge as they came back from a 20+ point lead to having a chance in the final 10 seconds to tie the game. Ryan Andersen missed and the Heat held on thanks to clutch free throw shooting from James.
Wade sat back and let James run most of the show, and had a nasty spill in the third quarter challenging Dwight Howard on the defensive end and as often the case when anyone challenges D12, he came off second best. Wade missed the rest of the third and came back in the fourth but managed only 14 points including another battle from the free throw line shooting just 4/8. Clearly the lingering injuries are a problem.
The continual rotation of Dampier and Anthony proved effective on Howard as they were able to cut his offensive performance to just 17 points, much better than their last meeting in the same building. Orlando looked to get back into the game by throwing up 3 after 3, and it wasn’t until the final few minutes that they started cashing in.
I said after the blockbuster trade which saw Orlando obtain Arenas, Turkoglu and Richardson that their depth in the big man positions, as well as their ability to defend the wings would suffer. Tonight was the best instance of this. The trade can only be seen as an offensive maneuver hoping to match the scoring potential of both Miami and Boston, yet Howard demanded a better defensive team in an effort to respond to the growing power down south and he received the opposite. Neither Richardson’s nor Turkoglu or Arenas can deny James and Wade. In the last 8 months Orlando have lost their two best perimeter defenders and have done seemingly nothing to recover these losses. Barnes and Pietrus successfully held Wade and James at bay to the extent that anyone else in the league has been able to do over the past half decade and the idea that bringing in offensive players to try to out score the Big 3 in Miami is nothing other than ludicrous. Teams like Denver, Golden State and Pheonix that play through their offense rather than defense may be great to watch but they are never going to win championships. The Lakers and Boston continually make moves to help their defense, knowing the offense will be stronger because of it. Despite Miami cashing in on three of the top 10 offensive players in the league (Bosh arguable), Wade and James are both All NBA Defensive First Team players and can aptly guard anyone in the league from the 1-3 positions. James can cover power forwards. Miami then surrounded them with paint defenders like Anthony and Dampier, scrappy guards like Chalmers and House, and energy players like Haslem, Jones and Miller.
Orlando need to make another trade before the deadline if they’re hoping to return to the Eastern Conference Finals. Otherwise the swing of power will shift permanently to South Beach.