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Orlando Magic 102, Houston Rockets 87

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Dwight Howard once again led the Orlando Magic to an ugly, grind-it-out win at home as they defeated the Houston Rockets, 102-87, for their third straight victory, and first home win over the Rockets since April 8th, 2002, when now-Rockets guard Tracy McGrady scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Orlando. Howard scored 13 points, corralled 20 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots in just 32 minutes, shutting the Rockets down in the paint and forcing them to take jumpers for much of the night. Vince Carter had yet another poor shooting night, missing 10 of his 16 shot attempts, but nonetheless led Orlando with 18 points. Rashard Lewis scored 15 points and made four three-pointers for the second consecutive game, while Jameer Nelson also scored 15 on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting. He propelled the Magic on a decisive 15-0 run in the third quarter, scoring 8 points and dishing an assist to Lewis for a three-pointer during that stretch. Ryan Anderson became the latest Magic backup to shine, scoring 14 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 18 well-played minutes, which Magic coach Stan Van Gundy deemed "a very good effort." Reserve power forward Carl Landry paced the Rockets with 20 points on 11 shots, so Van Gundy subbed Howard in for Marcin Gortat, and Howard responded. Van Gundy pointed out that the Rockets "went to [Landry] once [against Howard], he shut that down and that stopped [the Rockets from looking for him.]"

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Rockets 91 96.0 42.7% 20.7 13.3 11.0
Magic 95 107.9 52.4% 15.3 24.4 16.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

The third quarter was when Orlando really broke the game open after allowing the Rockets to trim a 12-point lead to just 3 at halftime. Houston scored 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting in the period. Rockets coach Rick Adelman said "we just had a real poor third period" and "we couldn't get anything going [...] and they kind of took control." Indeed the Magic did, as previously described. Specifically, Houston missed 8 shots and committed 2 turnovers during their 6-minute scoreless stretch, in which Orlando increased its lead from 1 to 16. The Rockets' offense is opportunistic, predicated on ball movement and finding the open man. There weren't many men open during that stretch, though Adelman did say of his team's overall shooting performance, "I didn't think they were bad shots." I'm not one to challenge anyone with a resume like Adelman's, but I don't consider a contested Trevor Ariza long two-pointer off the dribble is a good shot. Ariza, the former Magic forward, shot 1-of-10 and struggled to create his own shot all night. He fared better in a complementary role with the L.A. Lakers last season. He hasn't had the opportunity to complement anyone in Houston, with franchise center Yao Ming out, so it's far too early to say the Rockets' decision to sign him was a bad one. Yet the early returns aren't promising.

The main reason for Houston's perimeter-oriented attack was indeed due to Orlando's defense of the paint, although the Rockets are perimeter-oriented to begin with during Yao's prolonged injury absence. Sure, Howard did more than his share, and Gortat fared well up until Landry got hot in the fourth quarter. But overall, the Rockets shot 19-of-40 in the paint for 39 points. Adelman attributed the Rockets' overall offensive struggles to their inability to "get anything going to the basket." Aaron Brooks has a slight quickness advantage on Nelson, and blew by him for the Rockets' first points of the game the first time he challenged him in the first quarter, but Nelson generally tended to keep Brooks from getting to the rim. Brooks countered by draining 3-of-5 three-pointers during the Rockets' stellar second period, but managed only 2 points on 0-of-4 shooting in the second half.

A message written on the team's whiteboard after the game described of what the Magic were most proud: allowing 35 points in the entire second half. Van Gundy mentioned it in his post-game comments, and Carter cited the stat in his post-game availability as well. Said Carter, "defensively, that's where we're trying to make our mark." Once again, the Magic succeeded in that area. In their three-game homestand since allowing the Miami Heat to score 104 points on 86 possessions, the Magic have limited their opponents to 269 points on 287 possessions for a defensive rating of 93.7. Howard, in particular, is leading the charge. Said Howard, "I tell the guys, 'Hey, I got your back. Continue to play good defense, I'm going to be behind you to erase the mistakes.' And that's what it takes." He emphasized the importance of his own "blocking shots and rebounding," using a version of that phrase three times in responding to one question. Van Gundy said he's encouraged Howard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to try harder on that end: "We made the point that he had backed off [rebounding and blocking shots] early in the year, and he has stepped it up in a big way now." Since the Magic's two-game losing streak to the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns two weeks ago, Howard's averaging 16.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per contest.

The Magic's offense was a more balanced attack, with five players scoring in double figures; Orlando moved to 14-2 on the season when that occurs. They weren't too far away from placing 7 men in double-digits, with J.J. Redick scoring 9 and Matt Barnes adding 8. However, it wasn't a great performance in terms of efficiency, and Van Gundy said, "we've still got to do a little better job of getting [Howard] the ball." He added that he "wasn't really upset with the shot selection," though. Turnovers, and not shooting, contributed more to Orlando's mediocre offensive outing. Nelson and Carter had 4 apiece, accounting for half the Magic's turnovers, which Houston converted to 16 points. Counting tonight, Orlando has performed worse than their season average in turnover rate in each of their last five games, something Van Gundy wants them to correct very soon.

Orlando will practice early tomorrow to give players enough time to finish their holiday shopping, then will face the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day. Though Van Gundy and the players had plenty to say about that game when asked, it didn't appear as though the Magic were caught looking ahead with a poor performance tonight.