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Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 25: Forward LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena on December 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida. the Heat defeated the Thunder 103-97. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2012

The Miami Heat take on the Orlando Magic in a battle to rouse out the best basketball team in Florida.

Okay, maybe that's putting a bit too much emphasis on this meeting, but it is the first meeting for these two teams this season.

For the Magic, it may be one of the last shots they have of keeping their hopes to shake themselves awake for a playoff spot, while the Heat are just looking to win another game.

With a few key members of the Magic out, a win would be a bit surprising, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Miami Heat (20-8), Orlando Magic (12-18)

Betting Line: Miami -9

Injury Report: Udonis Haslem, Questionable (Shoulder); Glen Davis, Out (Shoulder); Al Harrington, Out (Knee); E'Twaun Moore, Questionable (Elbow); Jameer Nelson, Questionable (Hip)

Key Storyline: Miami's Losing Streak

It's not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but Miami has lost two games in a row since beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, and both losses came against teams they should have beaten.

They coughed up wins against the Detroit Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks, and while the Bucks are a playoff team, they're nowhere near the team that Miami is.

This just furthers the belief that the Heat are playing down to their opponents and just flat-out not giving it their all in these (somewhat) meaningless regular-season games.

After the two losses, Miami is tied with the New York Knicks and just one game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Arron Afflalo

Arron Afflalo has played all over the place for the Magic this season, but then again the Miami Heat haven't exactly played specified positions either.

In this case, it seems like it makes the most sense to pit Afflalo against LeBron James as each team's premier offensive weapon and best perimeter defender.

Afflalo is going to have his hands full, there's no doubt about that. But if he's able to give LeBron a few bumps here and there when he is guarding James, then it might make him think twice about trying to go at him head-on.

Meanwhile, LeBron needs to watch out for Afflalo. He may be the leading scorer of a mediocre Eastern Conference team, but he's got the ability to go off for 30 points. If that happens, then this one is far from in the bag for the Heat.

Of course, all LeBron is going to need to do is play how he's been playing all season long, score a bit, get the rest of the team involved, score a bit more and play some solid defense, and Miami should be able to reel this one in.

X-Factors: J.J. Redick and Ray Allen

Two sharpshooters at very different points in their respective careers come into this game as very dangerous players for their respective teams.

It goes without saying that Allen is going to knock down a few three-pointers throughout this one. He'll see open shots and he'll be able to put a few in.

What he hasn't done much of this season is something that Redick has been able to do, and that's be more than just a spot-up shooter.

Redick has shown that he can play with the ball in his hands this season, even becoming a distributor of sorts for the Magic.

When he becomes the team's de facto point guard, he becomes even more dangerous, as there is an increased chance that he'll be able to run a pick-and-roll, leading to a confounded defense and space for Redick to get a three off when the ball is reversed back to him behind the arc.

Defensively, he's been playing like he's trying out for 29 other teams, ramping up his intensity and really playing some solid on-ball defense.

He's one of the best trade assets Orlando has at the moment, and his expiring contract makes his move all the more likely.

It's definitely wise to look out for Redick in what has been a career year for the Dukie.

Prediction

The Miami Heat have fiddled around for the past two games, and it's starting to get people talking about their problem they have of playing down to their opponents.

When that happens, they usually come out and blow their opponent out of the water.

They may be going on the road, and they may have played poorly over the past two games, but I don't see them losing this one, giving them their first three-game losing streak of the season.

In fact, it seems to me that they'll do more than enough to cover the spread against the Magic.

Miami 117, Orlando 94

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