Once again, the Orlando Magic played the Houston Rockets. And once again, they were unable to stop Yao Ming from doing whatever he wanted. Houston's All-Star center tallied 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, a game-high 16 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in the Rockets' "controlled romp"--Houston was firmly in control throughout, but never blew the game open--over Orlando, which was unable to make the game competitive despite the best efforts of Houston native Rashard Lewis. The Alief Elsik High School graduate led his team with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists, but did not get much help from his teammates. As expected, Dwight Howard struggled against Yao, mustering only 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go with 10 boards and 3 blocked shots. Houston's stifling defense held Orlando to 38% shooting, and Tyronn Lue (4-of-7) was the only Magic player to shoot better than 50% from the field. With the win, Houston joins Detroit as the only teams to sweep Orlando this season.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
This game was definitely not one for the time capsule. We knew that Houston's defense would give the Magic fits, but we underestimated its offense. Looking at the whole season, the Rockets are an average offensive team at best; their best asset is effective field goal percentage, which is 50%, or 14th in the league. To be sure, some late free-throws brought on by the Magic's desperate attempt to prolong the game boosted the Rockets' offensive efficiency a bit, but not nearly enough to account for how much they excelled tonight. Ron Artest managed to take 21 shots--more than one-quarter of Houston's total--and he missed 15 of them. He was about the only Rocket to do much wrong offensively, and he managed to mitigate his gunning with a game-high 7 assists. He's a terrific passer from the high post, and Houston managed to catch Orlando napping on a number of backdoor cuts. It is indeed frustrating to watch the Magic, one of the league's best defensive teams, collapse against a normally impotent offensive team.
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I'm not sure what else there is to say, honestly. The Magic made a valiant effort and generally played smart offensively, but there was only so much they could do. When Tony Battie is trying to create off the dribble with the shot-clock winding down on two separate occasions, it's just not your day. Similarly, when your defense takes away all Houston's passing lanes and forces Yao to take a 17-footer off the dribble with 4 seconds on the clock... it's not your day. That particular sequence, by the way, occurred with Orlando trailing by 8 with less than 4 minutes to play.
The Magic really needed to run more, though. With a few transition buckets, they might have been able to make the game more interesting at the end. But they played at the Rockets' preferred pace. And Houston, by the way, reminds me a lot of Detroit, and it's not just because those are the only two teams to sweep the Magic this year. Think of it:
They play at a slow pace;
they defend Howard exceptionally well;
their long perimeter defenders give Hedo Turkoglu fits;
they defend the three-point line well;
and their wing players are arguably better playmakers than their point guards.
The first four of those points bring to mind another team: the Boston Celtics, who will likely hold homecourt advantage against Orlando in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, barring some surprising late-season losses. Boston went 13-1 at home in last year's playoffs en route to the NBA title. So, um... tonight's loss is kind of a big deal in the long-term.
Houston's defense is scary good, but late in the game, it yielded plenty of three-point looks for Orlando's shooters. I give Stan Van Gundy a lot of credit for designing out-of-bounds plays to free Lewis for three-pointers--if any other player in the league get more wide-open looks than Lewis, I'd be shocked--but he simply could not connect. Nor could anyone else, really. Just an overall ugly game, with lots of repercussions down the line. Anger, disappointment, and sadness are all reasonable emotions for Magic fans to have right now.