By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 12:27 AM
MIAMI - Whether the fangs that protruded from LeBron James's mouth guard merely represented a nod to Halloween - as James suggested - or signified Miami's quest for opponents' blood, there was a ferocity to the Heat's play Friday as it resoundingly defeated the Orlando Magic, 96-70, in the home debut of the team's big three.
The Heat entertained home fans who paid an average of more than $300 per ticket - with a couple of courtside seats commanding more than $25,000. Yet the team's performance proved much more defensive and grinding than artistic and showy.
Hometown favorite Dwyane Wade led Miami's big three with 26 points, including 12 in a breakaway third quarter. James added 15 with seven assists, and Chris Bosh chipped in 11 with 10 rebounds. The Magic, meantime, faded under Miami's defensive pressure during a brutal second half, hitting just seven field goals in 36 attempts (19.4 percent).
"This is what we envisioned," James said. "Is it going to be a 26-point win, a dominant victory every night? No. It's the NBA. We know that. But the fans, they came out. The least we can do is play hard for them. It was great."
The Heat issued 496 media credentials for a game that attracted an announced sellout crowd of 19,600. NBA Commissioner David Stern showed up. Friday's A-list crowd included rappers Timbaland and Ludacris, singers Chris Brown and Jon Secada, artist Romero Britto and musician Clarence Clemons. Nobody paid less than $80 a seat, even the folks way up in the rafters.
The team was even greeted this week with a brand-new team song, penned by Emilio Estefan, called - perhaps prematurely? - "Celebrate."
"Even when we were up 20, the crowd was really loud," Bosh said. "That fueled us even more."
The Heat won its second straight game after opening the season with a loss, yet players said they are continuing to work out the kinks. Wade joked after the Celtics defeated Miami in Boston on Tuesday that he was sorry to have let down everyone who thought the team would go 82-0.
Three days later, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra lauded his stars for their defensive hustle and tried to keep the convincing win in perspective.
"Let's not get carried away with this game," Spoelstra said. "It's still going to be a process."
The Heat, at least, made sure it wouldn't blow the home fans' good time after staring at a six-point deficit at halftime. A nine-point for Miami in the first quarter gradually slipped away as Orlando's Dwight Howard antagonized the Heat's defense in the second.
But the Heat opened the third quarter with a 14-0 run, outscoring Orlando 28-10. Wade led the onslaught, hitting four of nine shots, while James hit three of four - with the pair combining on three three-pointers. During the period, the Magic made 2 of 20 from the field.
Howard, meantime, didn't score a point in the second half. The Magic shot just 30.4 on the night.
"It makes the offense easy when you can get multiple stops at one time," James said. "What got it going was defense."
A first-quarter fast break off a turnover that went, appropriately, Bosh to James to Wade, might have provided the game's prettiest moment. It woke up the crowd; Wade finished it by slamming home a soft alley-oop feed.
But such ballet has come amid slow, uncertain patches, times the Heat seems a bit out of step. Miami converted just 40.7 percent of its field goals.
"You can see the potential," James said. "We're still in the feel-out process. ... Defense is the one thing we can control. We can control our aggressiveness defensively."
Wade seems to be establishing his identity as the team's primary penetrator, the man most intent on slithering his way through defenses. James, who has stepped into the point guard slot at times, has been the quarterback, the field general, the distributor - albeit always a threat to look to the hoop. Bosh, meantime, has pulled down big rebounds while offering a handy third option offensively.
The Heat's occasional lack of rhythm has been due in large part to the big three's lack of playing time during the preseason.
But it has also been a result of the bruising defense it's sure to continue receiving from highly motivated opponents. And then there was the inspired offensive effort from Howard early; he hit 8 of 12 first-half shots for 19 points. He almost single-handedly lifted the Magic to a 51-45 lead after two quarters.
"We didn't shoot great from the field," Wade said. "But we gave a great effort. I think the fans can appreciate that - and we appreciate them."