So much for that defensive consistency the Miami Heat seemed to be developing in a remarkable December run that included a pulsating Christmas Day win over Western Conference leader Oklahoma City.
The Heat seemed to take a step backward in its progress on a four-game road trip that ended on New Year’s Eve, but managed to save some honor with a comeback overtime win at Orlando to gain a 2-2 split on the stretch.
Truth be told, the Heat had no businesses beating the Magic 112-110 in overtime after being outplayed all evening and allowing Nikola Vucevic (Nikola Vucevic?) to gather almost as many rebounds by himself as the Heat managed as a team.
Vucevic, a lumbering 7-footer in his second year in the league, had 29 rebounds, most ever by an opponent against the Heat. The Heat as a team had only 33.
But somehow, the Heat, who had trailed by double digits in the third quarter and were down by seven going into the fourth, managed to make up a four-point deficit in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime.
In fact, they even had a chance to win it in regulation but Chris Bosh missed a somewhat awkward jumper at the buzzer.
In the overtime, the Heat jumped in front by four, fell behind by one with 2:11 left, then got a big steal and dunk from Dwyane Wade in the closing seconds to help seal the two-point win.
That allowed the Heat to avoid the ignominy of losing three in a row for the first time this season. They had started a stretch of four road games in six days by winning at Charlotte (105-92) but had lost their last two by double digits at Detroit (109-99) and at Milwaukee (104-85).
Those two games marked the first time that the Heat had given up 100 points in a loss since the 112-92 thumping from the Knicks back on Dec. 6.
Through the next nine games, the Heat had begun playing defense closer to the way that had got them their 2012 NBA title, but in the losses to the Pistons and Bucks, and even in the win over Orlando, the Heat reverted a bit.
The Magic sliced up the Heat’s defense for numerous layups and dominated the rebounding 50-33. J.J. Reddick went off from 3-point range (5-of-9) on his way to 23 points, one off his season high.
Sheer will got the Heat the win.
“We didn’t want to lose the last game going into the new year,” Wade said. “It would have been a bad new year’s, dropping three straight on the road.”
Wade, who had only six points in the first half, finished with 21, including nine in the fourth quarter and overtime. LeBron James had 36 points with 10 coming in the overtime.
“One thing I liked about it, I saw an absolute desperation among our guys in the fourth quarter and overtime,” coach Erik Spoelsra said. “In a perfect world, I would have liked to where we didn’t have to get pushed that far, to the brink.
“But our guys did not want to lose this game. You saw that competitive spirit that our team is well known for. Now we have to build on it.”
Still rolling: The 36 points James scored against the Magic kept alive his streak of games with 20-points to start the season. It’s now at 29, second only to the 45-game streak George Gervin had to begin the 1981-82 season.
Unsung hero: Backup center Joel Anthony continues to be a key figure for Miami on defense. In the 13 minutes he was on the floor at Orlando, the Heat outscored the Magic by 13 points. The eight points he scored -- a season high -- were a bonus.
Allen back on: The 17 points Ray Allen scored against the Magic were six more than his total for the first three games of the road trip. He had injured his shoulder in the win over the Thunder on Dec. 25 and sat out the next game at Charlotte. He came back with nine points at Detroit but just two at Milwaukee.
Coming up: The Heat will be host to the Mavericks on Wednesday in the final meeting of the regular season between the two. The Heat won 110-95 in Dallas on Dec. 20.
The game will be first of three in a row at home for the Heat before beginning a six-game road trip. The Bulls come to AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday and the Wizards visit on Sunday.
The road trip starts Jan. 8 at Indiana and features games against the Pacers, Trailblazers, Kings, Jazz, Warriors, and Lakers.