It’s getting hot down in Florida tonight for NBA Basketball, as two red-hot in-state rivals clash together with the Miami Heat (31-9, 13-7 away) tipping off against the Orlando Magic (27-15, 14-7 home), in what will be a pivotal match-up between Southeast Division foes.
In the third meeting on the season, and the first of two contests set up between the two teams over the next six days, tonight’s battle between the #2 and #3 seeded teams in the Eastern Conference race is a crucial game for both teams as the season winds down towards the playoffs. With the trade deadline hanging over Orlando’s head and coming up fast on Thursday of this week, all eyes are again focused on Dwight Howard (21.1 points, 15 rebounds/game), who has been the biggest and longest-running possible trade story for the entire season. Despite the drawn-out drama around Howard, the Magic just keep on winning games, emerging victorious in 7 out of their last 10 contests, and will look for a third straight victory tonight while hopefully rebounding from last month’s 90-78 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Heat. While the Magic have certainly had some flaws this season, by far owning the league’s worst free-throw shooting percentage (65.2 percent), and shooting at a rather pedestrian 43.9 percent from the floor (17th in the NBA), there have been a number of bright spots for the Magic, especially on the defensive side of things, that give this team plenty of optimism in each match-up they head into. Orlando maintains the league’s 5th-best defense against opponents, allowing just 91.7 points/game, and ranks 8th in total rebounds at 43.4 per game, thanks in part to Howards astounding 15 boards per contest. Coming into tonight’s home match-up after beating the Chicago Bulls at the United Center and the Indiana Pacers at home on Sunday night, Orlando should be primed and ready to face one of, if not the, toughest teams in the NBA this season.
The Miami Heat are without question one of the most complete teams in the NBA this year, led of course by the Big Three of LeBron James (27.7 ppg), Dwayne Wade (22.5 ppg) and Chris Bosh (18.1 ppg). These three players alone account for 68.3 points to the Heat’s impressive 102.6 points/game (2nd in the NBA), but what’s truly been the biggest factor for Miami this year is their depth of talent, which has seen big contributions from point guard Mario Chalmers (10.6 ppg) as the sniper from 3-point range (4.5 shots/game, 44.3 percent), and good inside presence especially on defense from Udonis Haslem (6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Joel Anthony (3.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg). While there’s been no question who carries this team, the Heat have been able to withstand absences from their Big Three by getting much better contributions from their bench, something that didn’t happen as often last season, and by continuing to play much better defense despite having an offensive that is one of the most prolific in the league. Interestingly enough, LeBron James, arguably a favorite for league MVP, is also a candidate to nab Dwight Howard’s Defensive Player of the Year award, based on his flexibility in covering a wide variety of scoring threats. We’ll see him match up in some instances on Dwight Howard tonight, and also spend time across from Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson and even the much smaller J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson. This is perhaps Miami’s biggest key against Orlando tonight; if James can have success defending around the perimeter against a very talented 3-point shooting Magic team, and also help out against the dominant force of Dwight Howard in the paint, the Heat could be primed to steal one away from Orlando at the Amway Center tonight.
Though Dwight Howard will certainly be a key ingredient for the Magic tonight, in what could theoretically be his second-to-last game in an Orlando jersey (they’ll play another tough match-up tomorrow at San Antonio), now is the time for the Magic’s other leaders to start stepping up and asking for the ball. The focus then should be on Orlando’s perimeter shooters this evening, especially the aforementioned J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson who lead the team in shooting percentage from beyond the arc (46 and 41.8 percent respectively). Orlando takes a whopping 26.6 3-point shots per game, of which they’re making 38.8 percent as a team. For perspective, the visiting Heat attempt only 15 3-pointers per contest. The Magic simply must have success around the arc, capitalize on free-throw opportunities, and keep their shooting to the best possible looks against a Heat team that has allowed just 85 points per game while winning their last 3 contests. In the first meeting between these two teams, a 102-89 Magic win at home, Orlando shot 40.5 (17-for-42) from beyond 3-point range, and hit 71.4 percent of their free throws. In the second meeting, Orlando shot 37.9 percent from 3-point range (11-for-29), and made just 52 percent of their free throws. The points difference? 18 more points from 3-pt range in the first game, and the equivalent of 5 points left off the table in the second (had they shot at the same 71.4). Certainly notable as well, the Magic maintained a 48 to 38 rebounding advantage in the first meeting, and were beaten on the boards 40 to 48 in the second. The Magic must shoot well, and must rebound even better to win at home tonight.
Betting Lines for Orlando Magic vs. Miami Heat at Betonline Sportsbook
The Miami Heat enter tonight’s contest at Orlando as the odds-on favorite to win straight up on the money line, getting -190 odds, while the Magic at home get +165 odds as underdogs on their own court. With Miami winning 12 of their last 14 games, including 6 of their last 8 on the road, the straight up bet certainly would seem to favor taking Miami tonight, however Orlando has also gone 5-1 in their last six contests at home, and is 9-2 straight up against Miami at the Amway Center. Food for thought.
Against the spread, the Miami Heat are a 4 1/2 point favorite to win, with Orlando conversely a 4 1/2 point underdog, both getting -110 odds. Both of these teams have been difficult to pick against the spread this season, with Miami an even 20-20 for spread pickers this year, and Orlando not much better at 23-19, but with the two prior meetings between these teams resulting in a 12.5 point average margin of victory, chances are look likely that the winner of tonight’s contest will beat the spread handily.
The over/under in an interesting proposition with 189 1/2 points set as the mark for total points. In 5 of Orlando’s last 6 home games, the points total has gone over the mark, and that includes the last meeting between these two teams on the Magic’s court. In fact, 4 of the last 6 games between these two teams have gone over the total points when the two match-up at the Amway center.
This could be the last time Dwight Howard faces the Miami Heat in a Magic uniform, so expectations should be high that the Orlando big man will have another big game tonight, like he did on Sunday against Indiana. The Magic will get a boost with Hedo Turkoglu back in the line-up after serving a one-game suspension, but will be once again without Jason Richardson, who may be a key absence for Orlando as a key perimeter player. On the flipside for Miami, expect LeBron James to have a big improvement over the loss suffered at the hands of the Magic in the first meeting (17 points, 5-for-15 shooting), and look for the Heat to continue playing much better defense that will limit Orlando’s effectiveness around the perimeter. Both teams will certainly be geared up to get a win tonight, as they each have tough schedules ahead of them, but we’re looking to Miami as the team to beat, as despite their troubles with Orlando in the past, they are hitting stride as a solid defensive team, and should get big efforts from their Big Three tonight. Miami takes this tough battle in Orlando, beating the Magic 97-91.