The Orlando Magic received a record-setting performance from Nik Vucevic. Arron Afflalo almost eclipsed his season-high point total. The team's rookies played physical basketball.
But LeBron James trumped them all. And he forced them to settle for the worst kind of victory, a moral victory.
James scored 10 of his game-high 36 points in overtime and led the Miami Heat to a 112-110 comeback win over the shorthanded Magic at Amway Center on New Year's Eve.
"I really thought we were going to win that game," Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick said. "So when that happens and ends the way it does, it's disappointing."
Playing without injured starters Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson, the Magic led the defending champs by four points with almost a minute left in regulation, but Chris Bosh tied the score with a pair of baskets.
Orlando nearly upset Miami because Vucevic scored a career-high 20 points and broke Shaquille O'Neal's 19-year-old franchise record for rebounds in a game with 29 boards.
"Yeah, I knew how many rebounds I had," Vucevic said. "Teammates kept telling me to get 30, and I was close. But I only wish we would've won the game."
Afflalo scored 28 points while Redick added 23.
The Magic lost their sixth consecutive game, their longest losing streak since they lost six straight from Feb. 26 to March 6, 2006.
It didn't have to end that way.
Trailing 108-106 with 17.7 seconds left, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn drew up a double-option play for Redick and Hedo Turkoglu.
Miami's Ray Allen fell to the parquet floor, leaving Turkoglu wide-open, and Redick threw a crosscourt pass in Turkoglu's direction. But Dwyane Wade sprinted in, intercepted the pass, drove down the court and dunked to all but put the game away for Miami.
It was Orlando's 17th turnover of the game and resulted in Miami's 26th and 27th points off turnovers.
James added eight rebounds and 11 assists, and he put the Heat up 108-106 on a driving layup against Vucevic with 1:07 remaining in overtime.
Miami (21-8) avoided its third loss in a row.
"This is a winning league," James said. "You win or lose. It is not about how close you came to losing or how close you came to winning. We won. I am not discrediting what they did. They played a great game. They have some really good players and some pretty good pieces. We just made one more play than they did."
But Vucevic nearly willed Orlando (12-19) to the win.
"He wanted to get those rebounds, and he went after them," Vaughn said.
"That's how simple it was: He wanted the rebounds, and he went to go get them."
The Magic franchise record for rebounds in a game had been 28, set by O'Neal against the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 20, 1993.
Guard E'Twaun Moore, big man Gustavo Ayón and power forward Al Harrington all sat out because of injuries, in addition to Davis and Nelson.
"For the most part, we've put ourselves in positions to win without Glen," Redick said. "We haven't gotten a win yet. It's frustrating."
Vaughn employed his 12th starting lineup of the season: Ish Smith at point guard, Afflalo at shooting guard, DeQuan Jones at small forward, Andrew Nicholson at power forward and Vucevic at center.
Jones defended energetically against reigning league MVP James, though not always effectively.
Nicholson fouled Wade hard under the Magic hoop early in the game, leaving Wade with a bloody nose.
And then there was the performance by Vucevic, a 7-footer in his second NBA season.
"He had a heck of a night," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
But so did James.
There's a reason why James is considered the world's best player.
He proved it again. This time, he did it at the Magic's expense.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.