Who: Orlando Magic (36-38) at Miami Heat (37-38)
What: The Most Important Game of the Year
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Wade County, Florida
When: Tuesday, March 26, 2019, 7:30 PM EST
Why: Very Serious Playoff Implications
Injuries: O-Rodney McGruder (Knee), O-Justise Winslow (Thigh)
This is the one. This is the make or break, right here. With seven games left, the Heat are just .5 games ahead of the Magic. The winner of this game has the eighth seed with six games left in the season. If any game this season has been classified as a must-win, it’s this one.
The Orlando Magic beat a Simmons-less Sixers team last night, 119-98. This not only means that the Magic are red-hot, but that they’re coming off a back-to-back. This is equal parts good and bad for the Heat. Orlando is confident, but they’re probably tired.
The Heat beat the Wizards on Saturday, 113-108, thanks to 20 points off the bench from (guess who) Dwyane Wade. The team was and still is without Justise Winslow, but the rotation has been solid of late.
These two teams have played three times this season, with Orlando taking the first two early in the season, and Miami taking the most recent battle. This is the last meeting of these teams this season, and inarguably the most important.
Oh! And Chris Bosh’s jersey is getting retired tonight. Read all about it in this excellent article by our very own Shazon Lothan. Big fan.
The Magic are kind of an oddity. They’ve managed to almost claw their way into the playoffs with point guards like DJ Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams, and survive largely off the play of big man and first-time all-star Nikola Vucevic. They score 106.3 points per game and allow 106.2. They’re as average as can be. They have a weird team composition. And yet, here we are.
The Magic are a surprisingly good defensive team, but head coach Steve Clifford has always been known as a defensive-minded guy. Orlando hardly ever fouls (they tally the second-least fouls per game).
They also record a lot of blocks due to their abundance of tall players (they run PF Aaron Gordon as a small forward, who can record blocks due to length and athleticism while also shooting like a wing player).
Orlando’s main problem is that they rely heavily on the success of Vucevic. Miami has not one, but two defensive-minded centers that can cause a problem for him. The main key to the game is to shut down Vucevic. Their main wing scorers, Evan Fournier (PLEASE don’t google Fournier) and Aaron Gordon, will get theirs, but it’s a matter of holding Vucevic under 20.
Offensively, keep the ball out of the paint. Players like Johnathan Isaac make it a nightmare to score close to the basket, so shooting the longball is going to be the way to go. The Heat have been more consistent from three later in the season, and now they’re shooting just above the league average. I say fire away.
Final score prediction: 110-108 Miami. Are you nervous? I’m nervous.
The Magic play the Pistons on Thursday, a team they’ve only beaten once in three attempts this season.
The Heat play the Mavericks on Thursday, a team they’ve beaten one time in one attempt this season.
Since I so brilliantly predicted that the Heat are running away with the eight seed the other day, they’ve now almost lost that spot. We know about the Magic, and we know the Hornets are almost out of the race (and would be out of the race if it wasn’t for Jeremy Lamb’s insane buzzer beater, please watch it).
The Nets and Pistons are tied for seventh at the moment, but the Nets close out their schedule playing seven straight eastern conference playoff teams (including the Heat to end the season, a game that could be very important in the long run). The Pistons play the Nuggets today, and end the year with a slightly easier schedule than the Nets. They play the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Pistons for their final three games.