ORLANDO (SportsDirect Inc.) — What appeared to be a lost or at least transitional season a month and a half ago has turned into one that could include a playoff series or more for the Miami Heat.
The Heat have won 17 of their last 20 contests since an 11-30 start and can avenge one of the three losses during their surge when they visit the struggling Orlando Magic on Friday night for a Southeast Division battle.
Miami is one game behind eighth-place Detroit in the Eastern Conference and just three away from sixth after a 125-98 victory over Philadelphia on Wednesday, but lost 116-107 at home to the Magic on Feb. 13.
“We’re playing for something right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “We don’t have a lot of wiggle room.”
Orlando, which owns more victories than only three teams in the league after starting the season with playoff aspirations, dropped seven of its last nine after a 101-90 home defeat against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
“We’re just not consistent,” Magic leading scorer Evan Fournier told reporters. “That’s the bottom line. That’s why we can’t get two wins in a row.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Sun (Miami), FSN Florida (Orlando)
ABOUT THE HEAT (28-33): Miami received 67 points from its bench in the victory over Philadelphia and 24 of them came from guard Tyler Johnson, who is fourth on the team in scoring (14.0). Center Hassan Whiteside notched his sixth double-double in the last seven games and leads the league in rebounds (14.1) while blocking 2.1 shots per contest – among the top four in the NBA. Goran Dragic scored 15 on Wednesday after averaging 22.5 points in February while Dion Waiters matched him after scoring 18.4 per contest last month.
ABOUT THE MAGIC (22-39): Fournier tops the team at 16.7 points per game and has scored at least 20 in six of his last 10, including 22 in the loss to the Knicks. Center Nikola Vucevic boasts four double-doubles in his last five games – averaging 14.2 points and 10.1 rebounds overall – while guard Elfrid Payton scored two on Wednesday – his lowest total since Jan. 1. Small forward Terrence Ross, acquired from Toronto in the Serge Ibaka trade, is averaging 14.3 points in three games with the team but is coming off a 3-for-10 shooting effort against the Knicks.
1. The Magic have won three of the last five meetings and are 2-1 this season, averaging 126 points to win the last two.
2. Miami G Rodney McGruder left Wednesday’s game with a bruised left quad and is questionable.
3. Orlando was one of two teams in the league averaging under 100 points entering Thursday (99.5).
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