MIAMI -- Another big lead, another big collapse.
Down by 24 points in the third quarter, the Magic went on an unbelievable 40-9 run over the next 15 minutes and stunned the Heat 99-96, the second-largest comeback in Orlando franchise history and matching the second-biggest in the NBA this season.
Jason Richardson scored 24 points for Orlando, 11 of them to kick start the epic burst that turned a 73-49 deficit into an 89-82 lead.
"Well, that defies explanation," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
There's only been six instances this season of a team taking a 22-point lead or more and losing. The Heat have been victimized that way twice, both times at home, the first against the Utah Jazz in the season's earliest stages.
This one seemed to cut much deeper.
"We've blown a lot of games where we were in full control," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "And we have to do something."
Jameer Nelson scored 12 of his 16 in the second half and Dwight Howard finished with 14 points and 18 rebounds for the Magic, who fell into the 24-point hole when LeBron James scored with 8:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Orlando outscored Miami 50-23 the rest of the way.
"To do it on the road, that was an incredible win," Van Gundy said.
Said Dwyane Wade: "Mindboggling."
James and Wade combined for 47 points in the first half and outscored the Magic by two in the first 24 minutes.
That was long forgotten by the end.
"I've been a part of games like this one before, but this one is special," said Richardson, who was 5-for-5 from 3-point range after halftime. "We knew what they did to us last time. LeBron and D-Wade played at a superstar level in the first half. We just hung in there, battled, got some stops. It was huge getting a win here."
James scored 29 and Wade had 28 for Miami.
Wade was 0-for-4 in the fourth, James 0-for-2. Combined in the second half, they were 3-for-13, all three makes by James. They were hardly the only ones to blame -- in the fourth quarter, Howard alone outrebounded Miami 10-9.
"We need to keep on pushing through," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "There's no other way to say it. ... The tide turned."
The game was significant in the standings.
Miami is now two games behind the Boston Celtics -- three in the loss column -- for the best record in the Eastern Conference. And Orlando, which has very quietly won four straight, is now just 3½ games behind Miami in the Southeast Division. The Heat go to San Antonio on Friday, while Orlando hosts the Chicago Bulls.
Ryan Anderson scored 15 and Gilbert Arenas added 11, including a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth. Orlando was 9-for-14 from 3-point range after halftime, while the Heat were 11-for-37 from anywhere on the floor.
"I have never been a part of one like that," Van Gundy said.
That's not entirely true.
Orlando nearly rallied from a 23-point deficit in the final 7½ minutes when the teams last met early last month, missing a potential game-tying shot in the final seconds that night on its home floor.
So on Thursday, the Magic started rallying much sooner.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know we were down that much," Nelson said. "I was just playing. I just think that's what you have to do when you know you can play better and you're not playing up to your potential. Just get it going somehow, not worry about the score."
Miami was down 97-96 with 9.6 seconds left. J.J. Redick pushed the lead to three with a pair of free throws, before Bosh and James missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds.
"Got a good look," James said. "Just didn't go in."
Mike Miller made a 70-footer for Miami moments after the halftime buzzer, something that looked inconsequential when the Heat were leading by 18 at the time.
The final margin? Three points.
"The urgency is there," Wade said. "Just got to finish it. We enjoy these games. We play them hard. ... It's growing pains and it [stinks]. You look for the light at the end of the tunnel."
James made his first 11 shots when the teams last met in Orlando a month ago, so the Magic were possibly relieved when his first attempt Thursday bounced away.
Ah, a mere temporary blip for the two-time MVP.
James wound up making nine straight shots after that first miss and Wade was 10-for-12 from the field by halftime, as the Heat took a 63-45 edge into the locker room.
"It was one of those nights the stars aligned," Van Gundy said.
In the last Heat home game, they wasted a 15-point lead before losing to the New York Knicks. At Orlando a month ago, Miami was up by 23 with 7:40 left before surviving a white-knuckle finish. A 23-point lead in Indiana was all but squandered a couple weeks ago, and there was the stunning 22-point collapse in a home loss to Utah in November.
This might have been the worst of all.
"We continue to get big leads and we continue to falter," James said. "Hopefully we can figure it out soon."
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