The Orlando Magic started their post-All-Star break journey off on the right footing as they defeated the Houston Rockets 119-111 in front of an energetic Amway Center crowd Friday night.
Chuma Okeke scored a career-high 26 points (9 for 13 FGA’s, 5 for 7 3PTA’s) off Orlando’s bench, providing just the spark the Magic needed to hold off a young and energetic Houston team.
“I was just trying to stay confident in myself,” Okeke told reporters after the game. “Believe that every shot that I take is going to go in. Even if the shot doesn’t go in, just move on to the next shot. (Have) a short-term memory, and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Okeke also grabbed 9 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and swiped 3 steals (in 31 minutes).
“We see Chuma every day in practice,” center Wendell Carter Jr. said after the game. “We know what he’s capable of. One thing we always try to preach to him is, stop second-guessing. You’re a scorer in this league - we try to preach that to him, I try to preach that to him.”
Carter Jr. added 24 points (9-11 FGA’s, 5-7 FTA’s), 12 rebounds, and 2 assists. Orlando enjoyed a 54-41 advantage over Houston on the boards, including 10 offensive rebounds (4 by Carter Jr.).
The game couldn’t have started off worse for the Magic, spotting the Rockets a 15-2 lead to begin the contest. Within the first three minutes of the game, Orlando committed six fouls and turned the ball over four times. Jalen Suggs only logged three minutes in the first quarter due to committing three early fouls (three fouls, two turnovers within the game’s first three minutes).
The Magic welcomed second-year guard R.J. Hampton back, who had been out since mid-January due to a knee injury. Due to Orlando’s early foul troubles, Hampton was needed - and he delivered.
The former 24th overall pick from the 2020 NBA Draft scored 6 of his 11 points in the first quarter (in 9 minutes) to help settle the Magic.
RJ back— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 26, 2022
: https://t.co/3b5LcPMoGB | @RjHampton14 pic.twitter.com/yKstUb5nRn
During his post-game conference, Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley praised Hampton’s ability to stay ready (and conditioned) after such a long absence.
Suggs re-entered the game in the second quarter, just long enough to commit two more turnovers (and his fourth foul in the first half, six total minutes). But before he sat for the rest of the half, he electrified the Amway Center crowd with one of the highlight plays of the year.
Following a steal, Orlando’s rookie point guard finished a solo fast-break by throwing the ball off the backboard to himself - before ending the moment with a thunderous dunk.
Jalen Suggs throws the oop to himself pic.twitter.com/YU4v3sVOXM— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 26, 2022
Orlando’s bench helped them take back control of the game. Hampton combined with Okeke, Terrence Ross, and Gary Harris to score 27 points in the first half, sixteen of those points coming in the second quarter. An Okeke three-point field goal from the left wing off a great find from Hampton gave the Magic their first lead of the contest.
“That was big,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters. “Chuma came in and did a great job. R.J. came in and did a great job - with his ball pressure, his intensity. Gary and T-Ross are always coming in and trying to get things going, get the ball moving. And then just the changing-up of the defense. It turned our intensity up, and those guys did a great job together out there.”
Moments later, Carter Jr. finished a dunk on the break off a lob from Okeke to give the Magic a seven point lead heading into intermission (after trailing by as many as fifteen points in the first quarter).
Orlando’s starters were once again a little slow out of the gate to begin the second half. The Magic missed 8 of their first 12 attempts from the floor in the third quarter.
Following a successful challenge by Mosley (which overturned a loose ball foul charged to Orlando on a Houston fast-break), the Magic lost the ensuing jump-ball - and Eric Gordon, who was left wide-open for a three-point field goal from the right wing to help Houston reclaim the lead.
Following a fifth-consecutive third quarter Christian Wood missed free throw, Garrison Mathews grabbed a long rebound - and was able to successfully convert a traditional three-point play.
The Magic were not able to pull away from the Rockets in the third quarter, but momentum did slightly start to swing back their way when Okeke re-entered the game late in the third quarter.
Okeke was everywhere, helping on defense, knocking-down perimeter shots, pushing the ball down the floor, and finding open teammates.
“I feel like we came in with a lot of energy,” Okeke said after the game, when asked about the second unit. “I think that’s what we had to do, being that we came out kind of flat in the first quarter. Whenever the first unit lacks energy like that, we just try to come in and pick them up, and we did that. We came in and finished off the game.”
The second-year forward found Harris on the right-wing, getting the ball back to the veteran off a steal, for a three-point field goal that put the Magic up by nine with 7:12 left in the game.
However, the Rockets were able to withstand Orlando’s attempted knock-out punch, and were able to get a couple blows in themselves. Two uncontested Jalen Green layups brought Houston within one possession with just under five minutes remaining, forcing Mosley to call timeout.
Okeke added seven-straight points coming out of the timeout to create some breathing room late in the game for the Magic. A Franz Wagner layup with 1:53 remaining put the game away, and sealed a home win for Orlando for just the sixth time this season.
“There was so much excitement in the building,” Mosley told reporters after the game. “We talk about this homestand, and what it means to our guys. But also what it means to these fans. To be able to give the energy and juice our guys played with, we got that from them (the fans). So it was exciting for these guys to be a part of (during this homestand).”
Green, the second overall pick from this past year’s draft, finished with 23 points. Wood finished with 21 points (8-15 FGA’s, 3-13 FTA’s) and 11 rebounds.
The homestand will continue with two-straight against the Indiana Pacers, starting on Monday night at 7:00 PM EST.
"Everybody's close."— Bally Sports Florida: Magic (@BallyMagic) February 26, 2022
Chuma Okeke praises the @OrlandoMagic's camaraderie. #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/5uDo4ir35a