MIAMI — The Orlando Magic overtook the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs Tuesday night with a 104-99 win in a pivotal game for playoff seeding.
The Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Heat, Magic and Charlotte Hornets are currently separated by just 2.5 games, and only two in the loss column.
The Magic (37-38) have a half-game lead over the Heat (36-38), and they own the tiebreaker should the two teams end up tied. Still, Orlando coach Steve Clifford wasn’t ready to celebrate after Tuesday’s win. With eight games left, he told his players they have to finish.
Chris Bosh joined Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal as the fourth player to have his jersey hanging in the rafters of the Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday night.
“There are [five] teams for three spots,” Clifford said. “As I said a couple [of] weeks ago, the Heat would be the team to compete for those three spots because of the way they play.
“We have to win on the road. Every game is going to be difficult. This was a good start to the road trip.”
Nikola Vucevic was the difference-maker for the Magic Tuesday night, as the big man shot the ball well and played with a lot of confidence en route to a team-high 24 points.
“This time of year is when it’s the most important,” Vucevic said. “We’re fighting for a playoff spot and to win six is really huge and it gives us a big advantage right now so we’ve got to keep it up.”
Dion Waiters had a game-high 26 points for the Heat and Dwyane Wade added 22 points, but they were outrebounded as a team 55 to 39.
“I think we all know it’s going to come down to the end,” Wade said. “That is not the way I wanted it to be. I would like the last game not to be like that so I can shoot all my shots, but we’ll have to play a good basketball game. It is what it is. This team has done that the last couple of years. We went down to the very end a few times. We’re in the fight. We have a chance.”
The Heat led 51-42 at halftime before the Magic took control in the third quarter. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was adamant that it had nothing to do with a lengthy halftime due to Chris Bosh’s jersey retirement.
“I told the guys in the locker room to get comfortable with this,” Spoelstra said. “If you want to make the playoffs, it’s going to be uncomfortable. This is what the playoffs actually feels like. There’s a big misconception, and a big lie about the playoffs, everybody thinks it’s so fun. When you’re in it, it’s a grind. So this is a great blessing to be in a situation during the season where you feel this. You’re going to feel great joy from wins and great pain for losses. That’s how you want to feel.”
The Heat host the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, and five of their eight remaining games are against teams currently in the playoffs. The Magic play at Detroit next, with five of their seven games against playoff teams.