Orlando Magic youngsters Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Kyle O'Quinn only just started their professional careers. Even if each of them plays another decade, they might never again face a team as dominant as the one they played against Monday night.
LeBron James' Miami Heat beat the injury-ravaged, rebuilding Magic 108-94 at Amway Center to capture their 27th consecutive win. The Heat now need six more victories in a row to tie the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' NBA-record winning streak of 33 games.
"Everybody's beatable," Magic point guard and co-captain Jameer Nelson said. "But those guys are playing so well right now it's tough for anybody to beat 'em."
Magic coaches and executives hope that their young players learned something, anything, from the Heat — lessons they can use to accelerate their development.
If nothing else, the Magic learned just how great James is.
James scored 24 points, collected nine rebounds and dished out 11 assists, and he played a central role in turning a close game into a rout.
With the game tied 68-68 late in the third quarter, James keyed a 20-2 Heat run that broke the game open.
"For us as a team," James said, "we've seen it all. We withstand runs. We know teams are going to make runs, and it's just how we come out of it."
James wanted the win badly.
He threw a perfectly timed alley-oop pass to Chris "Birdman" Andersen that Andersen dunked to extend the Heat's lead to 88-70 with 9:32 to go. When the Magic called a timeout, James pumped his fist and ran toward his team's bench. Teammate Mike Miller ran onto the court and gave James a flying hip bump.
"We did enough late in the third quarter and fourth quarter to come away with this win," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That was some of our best in that fourth quarter on both ends."
Nelson scored 27 points and tallied 12 assists, both game-highs, while Harris added 20 points.
Rookie small forward Harkless spent most of the night defending James, but he picked up three fouls in the final 1:32 of the third quarter. He finished with seven points on 3-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds.
"I've just got to keep getting better," Harkless said. "These guys are really good players, and hopefully one day I'll be there."
The Magic (18-53) faced a difficult challenge from the start against the Heat (56-14).
Already playing without injured center Nik Vucevic and shooting guard Arron Afflalo, as well as injured power forward Glen Davis and suspended small forward Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic's injury woes worsened midway through the first quarter.
Rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson injured his left ankle and didn't return to the game.
A 3-pointer by Nelson tied the score 68-68 with 2:59 left in the third period.
That's when James took control. He ignited a 10-0 Heat run to close out the quarter.
James received a feed from Mario Chalmers, sliced through the lane and unleashed an emphatic right-handed dunk.
After Andersen blocked a layup attempt from Harkless, James drove past Harkless and scored as Harkless picked up his fourth foul. James made the foul shot to put Miami up 73-68.
A short while later, Ray Allen swished a 3 from the right wing.
"They made a lot of shots, and they made a lot of open 3s that kind of killed us there," Harris said.
As the game's final seconds ticked off the clock, Heat fans inside the arena chanted, "Twen-ty sev-en! Twen-ty sev-en! Twen-ty sev-en!"
Six more wins in a row to tie the record.
Seven more wins in a row to break it.
"Our historic run is about winning championships," James said. "That's what we want to be known for. But it's a process, and whatever comes in-between that, we can be excited about."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun