The Orlando Magic dipped below .500 at home on Wednesday in their 101-89 loss to Dwight Howard and his Houston Rockets. Playing his second game at Awmway Center against his former team, Howard tallied 19 points and 14 rebounds to help lead Houston to its second consecutive victory.
James Harden scored a game-high 31 points, and Lake Howell product Chandler Parsons added 19 of his own in Howard's aid. For Orlando, Arron Afflalo returned to the lineup and scored a team-best 18 points. Maurice Harkless tallied 15 points and a season-best five steals in an energetic and aggressive performance, and Nik Vučević recorded a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Orlando got off to a sizzling start, perhaps feeding off some of the energy that Howard's return created: the Magic shot 14-of-23 from the field in the first quarter, including 5-of-8 in the paint, for 32 points to take a 13-point lead. Four of Orlando's starters scored precisely six points, and the fifth, Ronnie Price, had four.
But Orlando's hot start was destined to fade: as NBA.com/stats indicates, the Magic shot 9-of-13 on mid-range shots in the period, an unsustainably high percentage. E`Twaun Moore beat the first-quarter buzzer with an off-balance, well-contested one hander, which basket seemed emblematic of the Magic's first quarter as a whole: exciting but improbable.
Parsons led a Rockets resurgence in the second period, scoring 15 of Houston's 22 points and nearly outscoring Orlando (16 points) on his own. A Harkless three-pointer with 1.3 seconds to play in the half put Orlando up by six. Taken in concert with Moore's bucket to end the first, Orlando got five bonus points in end-of-quarter situations and led by six despite facing a team not playing to its potential.
The Rockets opened the third quarter on an 8-0 scoring run and closed it on an 11-0 run, helping them take a 75-65 lead in the third. Orlando's problem after the first quarter was an inability to create open shot attempts, an obvious deficiency for a team missing, in Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo, its two best point guards. Further, the ball-control problems which plagued Houston in the first half--Orlando converted 13 Rockets turnovers into 18 points--evaporated, limiting Orlando's chances to score against a D still scrambling to set itself.
Moore drilled a pullup jumper with 8:13 to play in the game to bring Orlando to within three. Rockets coach Kevin McHale immediately responded by substituting four starters back into the game around Parsons, and Harden took control.
The NBA's most famous beard beat the shot-clock with a step-back 20-footer, drilled another jumper over Afflalo while drawing a foul, and then drew an offensive foul on Orlando big man Andrew Nicholson. A little more than a minute later, he canned another jumper to put Houston's lead back into the double figures. Afflalo briefly cut that lead to eight with 2:17 to go, but the Rockets responded by rattling off six unanswered points to put the game away.