Heat's defensive gambles curtail Howard

MIAMI - Dwight Howard wore stylishly, sophisticated spectacles as he dressed and prepared to leave AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday after the Orlando Magic had their four-game winning streak snapped.

This time around, the NBA's most dominant big man certainly lacked 20-20 vision against the Miami Heat. How did the Heat solve their biggest problem against Orlando?

Easy. They went small.

A week after carving through the Heat with 25 points and 24 rebounds in a home victory, Howard ran into a more rugged defensive effort Sunday and was relatively contained as Miami cruised to a 90-78 win. The Heat extended their winning streak to six consecutive games, all by a double-digit margin.

Miami improved the league's best record to 25-7 and hasn't lost a game since that 102-89 setback on Feb. 8 in Orlando. In that game, there were no answers for stopping either Howard's inside play or the Magic's shooters, who nailed 17 3-pointers on 42 attempts.

The Heat made some minor adjustments to tame Orlando's inside and outside threats this time. Howard was guarded by as many as five different defenders, and the Heat mixed single coverage with varying double-team efforts from different angles. Howard was limited to 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, but finished with a game-high 15 rebounds.

Miami also held the Magic to a rather pedestrian 37.9-percent shooting on 3-pointers, with Orlando missing 18 of 29 attempts.

"What they did do well tonight was they clogged the paint up and forced me to pass the ball out," Howard said. "It was pretty good defense. They just played harder than us."

Sunday marked only the second time in the past 20 games that Howard attempted 10 or fewer shots. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his strategy was to mix up the coverages on Howard, and Miami gambled by playing smaller but quicker defenders on him in key stretches of the game to obstruct passing lanes inside.

At times, that led to 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem - who is undersized even at power forward - taking on the Howard assignment. LeBron James, at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, also had a shift or two against Howard. Orlando was unable to exploit the matchup as Howard, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu combined for nine of the team's 15 turnovers.

Spoelstra acknowledged the Heat got away with a few risky moves.

"Our guys were committed, and much more disciplined in this game," Spoelstra said. "All of us were disappointed the last time we played them. We had so many breakdowns. We didn't really give ourselves a chance. Our activity level throughout (Sunday's) game was very good, very consistent."