The Miami Heat put their three-game winning streak on the line Wednesday night against the visiting Orlando Magic.
Miami shocked the NBA’s best team with a 105-89 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night. The Heat became the first team to beat the 52-9 Bucks twice this season.
“I feel like we can play with anybody,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “My teammates believe that. Our coaches believe that. And this city (Miami) believes that.”
But while the Heat have proved they can be giant-killers — they are 2-0 against Milwaukee this season — they are just 4-4 in their past eight games, with maddening losses to three of the five worst franchises in the NBA at the moment in the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Magic aren’t nearly as bad as those three teams … or as good as the Bucks, whom they trail by 25 games in the Eastern Conference. They are currently in playoff position, and they have owned the Heat to a certain extent over the past few years.
One trend that certainly favors the Heat on Wednesday is home court. Miami has the third-best home record in the NBA at 26-4, and Orlando is just 11-19 on the road.
The Magic under coach Steve Clifford are known for tight defensive and a lack of explosion on offense. But over the past eight games — during which Orlando is 5-3 — the Magic have rewritten that script. They are averaging 119.8 points during that span, including a 130-107 loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
“That was incredibly disappointing,” Clifford said of Orlando’s effort against Portland. “It was lackluster defense.”
Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who had started 21 consecutive games, did not play against Portland due to a sore knee. He is questionable for Miami.
Gordon, who ranks third on the Magic in scoring (14.4) and second in rebounds (7.6), is one of three Orlando forwards on the injured list. Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu are out due to knee injuries.
The Heat have two key players on their injured list — rookie guard Tyler Herro and center Meyers Leonard — both out due to ankle injuries.
Orlando, which is 9-6 against Miami the past few years, trails the series 2-1 this season. A victory for Miami on Wednesday would clinch the series for the Heat for the first time since 2015-16.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando’s 6-11, 260-pound center, has long given the Heat nightmares. In 28 career games against Miami, he is averaging a double-double with 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Overall this season, Vucevic leads Orlando in scoring (19.3) and rebounds (10.8). He also ranks third in assists (3.6).
Adebayo, a first-time All-Star this year, presents a fascinating matchup with Vucevic because they are both versatile centers. Adebayo leads Miami in rebounds (10.5) and blocks (1.3), and he ranks tied for second in assists (5.1) and third in scoring (16.2).
On Monday, he helped hold reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to a season-low-tying 13 points. Antetokounmpo made just 6 of 18 shots, including 1 of 10 when Adebayo was guarding him.
“That’s been my challenge — go out and guard the best player,” Adebayo said. “Get it done on both ends. It’s been working out pretty well.”
–Field Level Media