The Miami Heat (8-3) travel to Orlando to take on the Magic (4-6) for the first game of a home-and-home series against their in-state rivals.
Miami is playing their second game in back-to-back nights, beating the Atlanta Hawks yesterday, 104-88. Miami’s fourth-straight victory was particularly impressive despite a low-scoring performance from LeBron James (only 13 points on 6 of 13 shooting) and missing the services of Dwyane Wade, who sat out the game for precautionary measures.
Orlando last played on Saturday, losing 108-100 to Dallas. Despite the sub-.500 record, Magic fans have been encouraged by the play of Arron Afflalo, whose per-game averages this seasons are 21.7 points, 5 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Afflalo was a nominee for NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week (from November 11 – 17) honors, averaging 26.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 59 percent shooting. The Magic went 1-2 during that stretch, which included a career-high 36 points for Afflalo in their sole win against Milwaukee.
Orlando’s head coach, Jacque Vaughn, is dealing with some issues in his second-year with the Magic, particularly in trying to blend a young cast with veterans like Afflalo and starting point guard Jameer Nelson. Vaughn sat Nelson halfway through the third quarter during the Dallas loss, choosing to close out the game with rookie guard Vctor Oladipo. After the game, Vaughn shrugged off the benching, labeling it “just a coaching decision.” Oladipo, the product from Indiana, has great athleticism but has been turnover-prone in his first year in the NBA, averaging 4 turnovers a game to go along with 11.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Tip-off will be at 7 P.M. at the Amway Center in Orlando.
And now, in honor of the “Big Three” era, here are…
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
Can LeBron keep up his historic levels of efficiency?
Absolutely. Through the first 10 games of the season, James has shot an amazing 62.2% on field goal attempts, one of the best starts in NBA history. Despite his low-scoring night against the Hawks, it will be interesting to see if LeBron maintains his aggressive shooting streak with Wade back in the lineup.
Who will make an impact off the Heat bench?
Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley…everybody? Miami’s bench had once seemed a point of weakness in past seasons but has now evolved into a major strength. Several backups have made major contributions at some point, with Beasley’s efficient scoring and Lewis’ rebounding and defense playing major factors during the winning streak. In fact, Heat starters have sat out a majority of the fourth quarter in recent blowouts. Orlando’s roster isn’t particularly deep so look for the self-proclaimed “Little 12” to keep putting up big numbers and quality minutes off the bench.
Can the Heat keep Nikola Vucevic off the boards?
Probably not. Vucevic grabbed a career-high 29 rebounds in a December 31 contest against the Heat last season and leads the Magic with 11.4 boards per game. Chris Bosh and backup Chris Andersen will have to make a concerted effort to limit Vucevic’s impact on the game.
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