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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Fernando Medina
The Miami HEAT open the regular season against the Orlando Magic Wednesday night at Amway Center. The HEAT fell to the Magic 110-99 in their last meeting on March 3. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: With Rodney McGruder undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg, how will the HEAT adapt without him?
Couper Moorhead: First of all, let’s wish McGruder a swift and healthy recovery (no timetable has been set). You never want to see any player injured but it’s especially tough seeing McGruder go down with how hard he has worked, going to Europe and then the G-League and finally making the most of his opportunity in the big league last season. He’s as dedicated a worker as I’ve ever seen myself.
What made McGruder fit so well last year with the starters was that he’s not the type of player who needs the ball in his hands. He simply put his head down, took on the toughest defensive assignments in the league, took open shots and constantly put himself in position to make loose ball plays. With how much the offense is geared around Goran Dragić and Dion Waiters attacking the rim, McGruder was able to play off those actions perfectly.
The player who most closely fits that mold, if that’s what Erik Spoelstra is looking for, is likely Josh Richardson. He might take on more ballhandling duties in general, especially with the bench unit, but Richardson is both a good shooter and versatile defender. The question is if he starts, who fills in the rotation behind him? That depends on who starts between Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson, but Okaro White and Jordan Mickey might have some opportunity ahead of them.
Joe Beguiristain: Even though the team is deep, it’ll certainly be tough to replicate what Rodney McGruder brought to the table. Whatever Miami needed him to do last season, from defending the opposition’s best offensive player to hitting spot-up threes, he did so with competitive fire. In other words, McGruder embodies the HEAT culture.
As for how the team will adapt without him for the time being, my guess is that Erik Spoelstra will roll with Josh Richardson as his replacement. Luckily enough, Richardson was fantastic in the preseason, as he averaged 13.6 points on 44.6 percent shooting, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 26.4 minutes per game. The former Tennessee Volunteer did a little bit of everything over the past few weeks, whether it was dunking on Bismack Biyombo, nailing treys or creating transition opportunities thanks to his defensive prowess.
Again, replacing the “glue guy” in McGruder is a tall task, but the HEAT’s versatility and depth puts them in a better position than most when dealing with injuries.
2: What did the Orlando Magic change during the offseason and how will that affect this matchup?
Couper: While Jonathan Isaac was certainly a significant pickup in the draft given that he’s the sort of long, athletic, skilled swingman who could turn into just about anything, Orlando’s most important move came at the trade deadline when they moved Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross. This accomplished a number of things, not only adding explosive perimeter shooting alongside Evan Fournier but giving Aaron Gordon the chance to move down to his more natural position in the modern NBA: power forward. So now, instead of starting a pair of big men, Orlando has speed and shooting on the floor at the outset. In that sense, Orlando was almost as different as possible from the HEAT a season ago but now they both play a more similar style as far as lineups go.
Joe: The Magic added a few new pieces over the summer, including veterans Arron Afflalo and Marreese Speights, up-and-comer Jonathon Simmons and first round pick Jonathan Isaac. With the exception of Speights (who did not play), each of those guys scored in double-figures against Miami on Oct. 7. In particular, Isaac looked quite comfortable on both ends of the floor despite being a rookie. He also showed impressive range on his outside shot and proved to be viable in pick-and-pop situations. Although he’ll likely be coming off the bench for the foreseeable future, Isaac is a very intriguing prospect.
Speaking of which, the Magic have a lot of depth like the HEAT do. Isaac backs up Aaron Gordon (who seems primed for a breakout season), Simmons is behind Evan Fournier and Biyombo is behind Nikola Vučević. Long story short, Frank Vogel has a lot of young talent to work with.
3: Orlando beat Miami three times last season. What aspect of those losses do you think the team will key in on Wednesday night?
Couper: There’s actually no great answer to this because, with the in-season trades Orlando made and the injuries Miami dealt with, there wasn’t much consistency from game to game. The HEAT won the season opener handily but after that each game was a mix of Evan Fournier scoring out of pick-and-roll, Nikola Vučević being the load inside that he’s been against Miami for years and Elfrid Payton doing a little bit of everything in his own second-half surge. Even then one of those games took a remarkably tough Ibaka hook shot bouncing in off the glass to force overtime.
At this stage of the season, and especially with a shortened preseason, opponents don’t matter as much. These first few weeks will be about the HEAT establishing their identity from last year, sorting through all their lineup options and, most crucial above all else, playing with the same competitive edge that they played with through both wins and losses last year. We’ll say this more than once this season, but this team’s greatest strength is how hard they play no matter who or when they’re playing.
Joe: While both teams are different like Coup stated above, I think the one thing that Miami might focus on is limiting Orlando’s points in the paint. Last season, the Magic averaged 42.2 PITP per game. That number ballooned to 58.0 PITP per contest in Orlando’s three wins over the HEAT. However, it’s important to note that Serge Ibaka, who got traded to the Raptors midseason, played a part in a few of those. That said, Vučević still performed quite well against the HEAT. With better discipline, more attention to detail and a healthier squad, Miami should be able to shore things up this time around.
One thing you can bank on Wednesday night is that the HEAT will give it their all from beginning to end. Based on the vibes after practice from Coach Spo and the players, you could just tell that the team is ready to finally get things going.
Let the games begin.
March 3 – HEAT at Magic
Feb. 13 – Magic at HEAT
The HEAT have won a franchise-best six-straight opening night games. Both Miami and Orlando went 3-3 in the preseason. Okaro White (strained left shoulder) is questionable, while Rodney McGruder (left tibia stress fracture) and A.J. Hammons (illness) are out.
HEAT Offense: 93.8 (27) HEAT Defense: 99.1 (16) Magic Offense: 96.2 (21) Magic Defense: 94.0 (8)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT fell to the Philadelphia 76ers 119-95 Friday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The game was presented by Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida. Bam Adebayo, Dion Waiters and James Johnson each scored 13 points apiece for Miami. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.