Our next Sweet Sixteen match features the two youngest franchises remaining in our tournament. The Heat acquired many of their franchise icons through free agency and trades, led by the front office mastery of Pat Riley. The Magic used the draft (and specifically, holding the number one overall pick in the draft three times) to acquire many of their stars, all of whom helped them deliver a first-round upset over the Pacers. How do the All-Time Miami Heat vs. All-Time Orlando Magic compare to each other?
Miami’s athleticism vs. Orlando’s athleticism: The Heat have one of the most athletic starting wing pairings in the tournament in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Magic have one of the most athletic starting backcourts in the tournament in Anfernee Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. Both have athletic big men who can protect the rim (Alonzo Mourning for the Heat, Dwight Howard and young Shaquille O’Neal for the Magic). The defensive matchups in the starting lineups will be fascinating; Tim Hardaway suffers from a huge size disadvantage, while Rashard Lewis will struggle to keep up with either of Miami’s wings. Will Miami dare put Hardaway on Lewis, so Wade and James can guard Penny Hardaway and McGrady? Who will Orlando put Lewis on?
Miami’s small-ball lineup vs. Orlando’s small-ball lineup: Miami’s jack-of-all-trades, LeBron James, will play power forward at times, and will be surrounded by shooters in this configuration (most notably Eddie Jones and Glen Rice off the bench). Stan Van Gundy had great success in Orlando surrounding a big man with four shooters around him, so expect him to utilize this tactic and stagger O’Neal and Howard’s minutes with Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Dennis Scott alongside them both.
LeBron James vs. Orlando’s small forwards: It’s unclear how Orlando will guard James in this series. Rashard Lewis has the length to bother him, but doesn’t have bulk or elite athleticism. Tracy McGrady has the athleticism and length, so he’ll see plenty of minutes on James, but he’ll likely start each game on Dwyane Wade. Expect Nick Anderson to get many minutes alongside Hardaway and McGrady to help Orlando match up better with Miami.
Orlando’s size vs. Miami’s size (in the starting lineup): Orlando’s starting big men (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard) are far bigger and bulkier than Miami’s (Alonzo Mourning and Chris Bosh). Orlando also has the tallest backcourt in the tournament, and a 6’10” starting small forward. There’s no good defensive matchup for Tim Hardaway, who may cede a lot of minutes to Eddie Jones and Glen Rice since Miami already has two ball-dominant players in Wade and James.
In the mid-1990s, the Magic had the makings of an NBA dynasty. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the greatest prospects ever coming out of college, and Penny Hardaway made two all-NBA first-team appearances in his first three seasons in the league. However, they never fulfilled those expectations, getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round (1994), the NBA Finals (1995), and the Eastern Conference Finals (1996), before O’Neal left the team via free agency. In 2010, the Heat had the one of the greatest free agency coups in sports history, re-signing Wade and signing-and-trading for James and Bosh. In their four years together, that group became champions, making four straight NBA Finals berths and winning two championships.
These two franchises engage in a classic battle. While Orlando has the talent to defeat Miami, the Heat have the championship mettle, and James shines as the best player in the series. It’s party time in Miami.
Heat win, four games to three.
Miami faces the All-Time Celtics.