There have been two kinds of Orlando Magic games this season: close, chippy games that could go either way and blowout losses that almost always favor the other team. Tuesday’s 128-104 loss in Houston was the latter.
An eight-point cushion early in the fourth quarter was the slimmest that Houston would have to defend, as they reeled off a 28-3 run that spanned from the end of the first quarter to the middle of the second.
“It’s [the Rockets’] toughness,” said Magic forward Serge Ibaka on what made the difference during that pivotal run, “In the first quarter they [were] playing tougher basketball than us.”
The Magic defense would recover from allowing 70 points at halftime by limiting the rockets to only 24 in the third quarter, but could not climb out of their early-game hole in time.
In this loss, as well as the other aforementioned blowouts this season, a common set of factors have led to the Magic’s demise.
A stretch of bad defense allows the opposing team to score inside at will. This game was no exception, as Houston scored 52 of their 128 points in the paint.
Once the defense breaks down, the Magic offense plays scared – forcing shots and passes that further seal their fate. On Tuesday the Magic had 16 turnovers, and their long misses allowed the Rockets to push the pace.
These two factors feed into each other and spiral into runs. In this one, the Magic failed to make a shot for 7:44 of game time during the Rockets’ spirit-breaking run. For good measure, Houston also ended the game with a 22-8 spurt to assure that the final score could reveal no moral victories for Orlando.
The Rockets would hit ten more threes and ten more foul shots than the Magic, who struggled to find an offensive identity throughout the game. Orlando would hit just six three-pointers against Houston, the NBA leader in made threes per game.
At the heart of Houston’s attack was point guard James Harden, the current favorite to win MVP. of the league. Harden had another day at the office during what has been the most impressive season of his career, netting 25 points, six rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals. To the Magic’s credit, Harden only shot 28 percent from the floor and needed fourteen free throw attempts to save his line.
For Orlando, the frontcourt provided a bright spot. Serge Ibaka would lead the team with 28 points and eight rebounds. Center Nikola Vucevic would chip in 14 points, as well as a season-high 19 boards.
The Magic will need to rely on their size as well as some youth on the wings, as another injury struck on Tuesday night. Starting small forward and confirmed 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest participant Aaron Gordon would not return for the second half, citing foot soreness. Gordon played 19 minutes in the first half, before being quietly subbed out, never to return.
Aaron Gordon's right foot is in a walking boot. He didn't have x-rays but will be evaluated tomorrow. He said he doesn't think it's serious.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) February 8, 2017
The Orlando Magic (20-34) will return home to face the Philadelphia 76ers (18-33) on Thursday. The Sixers are one of two teams currently behind them in the Eastern Conference standings.