There’s a possibility the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat could square off in a first-round playoff series that wouldn’t be lacking for star power between Dwight Howard(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes).
If Wade isn’t back in the lineup soon, though, the Heat may not wind up anything more than postseason spectators.
The Heat have beaten Orlando in both meetings this season, but a strained left calf is expected to keep Wade out of a fifth straight game Sunday when his team tries to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.
The Heat (29-30) were one-half game behind Toronto for the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed on Jan. 29, but an inconsistent last month - and an injury to Wade - has them teetering on the edge of the playoff picture.
Miami followed a five-game losing streak from Jan. 30-Feb. 6 with a five-game winning streak, but it’s dropped three in a row while Wade has been sidelined. After close losses to Dallas and Minnesota, the Heat shot 35.9 percent and totaled 26 second-half points Saturday in getting blown out 94-71 at home against Milwaukee.
“It’s a huge gap with Dwyane out, but we’ve still got to go out and play hard,” swingman Dorell Wright(notes) said after Miami fell into a tie for eighth in the East. “We didn’t play as hard as Milwaukee did.”
Wade is listed as doubtful for Sunday, which should be a relief to Orlando (39-20) considering he’s averaged 35.1 points in his last eight games against the Magic.
Beasley, though, has averaged just 12.0 points while shooting 30.2 percent during the Heat’s three-game slide.
“I feel like it’s more my fault than anybody else’s,” Beasley said after shooting 5 of 14 against Milwaukee. “Maybe if I could have grabbed a couple more rebounds and knocked down a couple more shots, we could have gotten on a roll.”
Orlando has split six games after a 10-2 stretch, and like many of its losses, Stan Van Gundy came away fuming.
The coach had plenty of reasons to be upset after this one. The Magic led by as many as 18 in the third quarter Friday at New Orleans, but scored six points in the first 11 minutes of the fourth and lost 100-93.
Howard had 26 points and 10 boards, but Orlando shot 25.9 percent from 3-point range and turned it over 18 times.
“We looked for opportunities to relax, lose focus and let down, and we deserved to lose,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve gotten to the point where Dwight can’t merely be very good. He has to be absolutely dominant for us to win.
“It was awful basketball. Hopefully we learned something from it.”
Howard certainly has been doing his part of late. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 28.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in five games.
Orlando is 19-5 when Howard scores more than 20 points.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t been much of an offensive factor against Miami this season, averaging 14.5 points. Though he’s grabbed 15.0 rebounds per game, the Heat won the battle of the boards in both meetings.
Nelson missed the first two meetings against Miami with a knee injury.