Coming off of a close loss at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, the Orlando Magic returned to preseason action on Sunday night in South Texas to take on the Houston Rockets in Hidalgo. The Magic struggled mightily in the first half, but staged a furious rally in the second half to win, 123-119.
Out of the gates, the Magic were lifeless, getting run over by a high energy Rockets team. Missed shots, coupled with turnovers began to pile up, along with poor defense allowing easy looks for the hosts. Seemingly before one could blink, the Rockets held a double digit lead, and things were looking extremely bleak for the young Magic squad.
After pushing the lead up to as many as 22, the Rockets began to slow down slightly, allowing the Magic to cut the lead back down to 17 after the opening 12 minutes of action. Seven Rockets scored, led by James Harden's 12 early points. Starting in place of Elfrid Payton, who was being held out for precautionary reasons with a right hamstring injury, Evan Fournier scored six points to lead the lifeless Magic.
Following their horrific opening quarter, things got slightly better for the Magic in stretches during the second quarter. The team showed some signs of life on both ends of the floor, but were still outplayed by the Rockets for much of the quarter. Their inability to guard the three-point line consistently continued to pile up, with the Rockets hitting 11-of-21 shots from beyond the arc.
The Magic struggled to consistently string stops together, seeing the Rockets lead jump back up to as many as 18, after the visitors clawed their way back to within 10. The Houston duo of Corey Brewer and Marcus Thornton tore the Magic's defense apart, combining for 27 off the bench, with 16 coming from Brewer and 11 from Thornton. Tobias Harris and Fournier both has eight for the Magic in the first half.
Following their uninspiring first half performance, things could only get better for the struggling Magic, and they did. From the start of the second half, the Magic showed a better energy level on both ends of the floor, slowing down the Rockets drastically in the third quarter. After a sizzling hot shooting in the first half, Houston was held a 27 percent shooting in the third quarter, allowing the Magic to slowly climb their way back into the game.
By the end of the quarter, the visitors found themselves down just one, following a key three-point play by C.J. Watson at the end of the third quarter. Brewer, who started the second half in place of Harden who left with a right knee contusion, continued to lead all scorers with 20. Fournier and Harris continued to do the bulk of the damage for the Magic, scoring 19 and 16 points respectively through three quarters.
Continuing their hot shooting, the Magic grabbed a lead early int he fourth quarter, pushing it to as many as eight. Emptying their bench, Houston began to fight back, cutting the Magic's lead back down to one thanks to some hot shooting from guys fighting for roster spots or a spot on the Rockets NBA D-League affiliate Rio Grande Vally Vipers. After trading buckets on a handful of possessions, the Rockets pulled out to a four point lead, forcing a Magic timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Magic ran a play to get Mario Hezonja a three from the corner, which he knocked down. After a stop on the other end, Hezonja put an offensive rebound back up along with a foul to put the Magic up two with 25 seconds remaining. After a pair of missed free throws, Devyn Marble locked the game up at the line for the Magic.
Seven Magic men finished in double figures, led by Marble's game high 21. Fournier finished the night with 19, while Harris finished with 16. Channing Frye added 14 in a strong performance off the bench, with Hezonja adding 13 in his first career start. Watson, who had his jersey retired by the Vipers prior to the game, scored 12, with Nikola Vucevic rounding out the group with 10 of his own.
Houston was led by the duo of Brewer and Thornton, who finished with 20 and 17 respectively off the bench. Harden finished the night with 12 in limited minutes, with Ty Lawson and Trevor Ariza each adding 11.