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Rockets 98, Magic 88: Late Orlando rally comes up short as it loses its fifth in a row

The Magic remain winless on the longest roadtrip in team history.

James Harden and Victor Oladipo
James Harden and Victor Oladipo
Troy Taormina - USA Today Sports

The Orlando Magic's losing streak reached five games, a season-worst, Sunday as they fell to the Houston Rockets by a 98-88 final. The Magic staged a fourth-quarter comeback by outscoring the Rockets, 27-15, in the period, but could not get enough stops or baskets to overcome their poor showing in the game's opening 36 minutes.

James Harden led all players with 27 points and 10 assists in 32 minutes, but the Rockets gave him plenty of help all around: Terrence Jones scored 16 points with 12 rebounds and five blocks, while former Magic center Dwight Howard scored 20 points, hauled in 22 boards, and blocked three shots of his own.

Glen Davis started his third consecutive game at center in relief of the injured Nik Vučević, scoring 18, albeit on just a 8-of-18 mark from the floor. Jason Maxiell, not Davis, played center as Orlando mounted its fourth-quarter comeback. Arron Afflalo, the Magic's best healthy player and one of the league's top shooting guards, himself went 6-of-17 for 16 points.

After yielding the first two points of the game to Lake Howell product Chandler Parsons on a breakaway dunk, the Magic scored nine unanswered points to take what would ultimately be their largest lead of the game. Houston responded with 17 unanswered points on five three-pointers and a long, pull-up two to take a 19-9 lead, after which point the rout was on.

The analytic-minded Rockets understand the value of shot-selection better than just about every team in the league, and their personnel and offense combine to facilitate their taking good shots, chiefly open threes off the catch but also driving layups and dunks. Dribble penetration keys Houston's offense: if its primary ballhandler gets his shoulders by his man, then there's an excellent chance that the possession is going to end with a high-value shot attempt.

The other possible outcome is a turnover, and the Rockets committed plenty of those Sunday: they committed 11 in the first half against Orlando and missed 10 free throws. Were it not for those factors, the Magic would have found themselves in even more trouble. They shot just 13-of-47 from the floor in the first half for 38 points, yet trailed by 14 because of Houston's poor ball control and conversion at the stripe. Notably, the Rockets had more first-half assists (14) than Orlando had baskets.

The Rockets increased their lead to 21 with a pair of Harden free throws at the 2:32 mark of the third, and even if the Magic were able to string some stops together--which they weren't, but we're speaking hypothetically--it'd be hard for one to get the sense that they'd be able to score enough points to climb back into the game.

With Vučević sidelined due to a sprained left ankle and Arron Afflalo and Andrew Nicholson unable to find the range, Orlando's most efficient offensive players didn't make an impact, and not necessarily due to anything the Rockets did defensively. Meanwhile, Davis, Victor Oladipo, and Jameer Nelson combined to shoot 15-of-41 from the floor for 41 points, further undermining the Magic's offense.

Orlando drew to within 10 at the 5:59 mark of the fourth quarter on a Nelson triple. The Magic couldn't get any closer than that, however, and a driving Harden layup in transition three minutes later put the hosts up 13 and effectively ended the game.