Magic 110, Rockets 95
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)
Whether the Orlando Magic's rebuilt roster is good enough to win an NBA title remains to be seen.
But what's becoming clearer by the day is that the Magic certainly have more than enough offensive weapons to take the pressure off All-Star center Dwight Howard when needed.
With Howard saddled with early foul trouble, Orlando got 18 points apiece from Brandon Bass and Jason Richardson, and 16 points off the bench from Ryan Anderson to beat the Houston Rockets 110-95 on Friday night.
The victory extended the Magic's season-best winning streak to eight games. The loss was the fourth straight for Houston.
Orlando clung to a three-point advantage at the half, but blew open the game after starting the third quarter on a 19-5 run to build a 74-55 cushion. Bass had seven points during the spurt as the Magic outscored the Rockets 39-21 in the period to take a 92-71 lead into the fourth. Anderson led all players with 13 points in the third.
''That's the good thing that we do have, is guys that can stretch the court and take a lot of attention,'' said Anderson, who was one of six Magic players in double figures. ''Dwight doesn't have to score 30 points in the game to be felt. He opens the court up for everybody.''
Bass, Richardson and Anderson helped overcome a 27-point night by Kevin Martin, who was coming off a 45-point performance in a loss to Portland on Wednesday.
''We fell apart in the third quarter,'' Houston coach Rick Adelman said. ''We struggled offensively, we just gave in at the other end. We gave up 39 points, that's not going to do it on the road.''
When Howard was in the game for Orlando, he drew lots of attention from an undersized Houston frontcourt. The Rockets were playing without 6-foot-6 starting center Chuck Hayes, who has missed five straight games with a sore right ankle, but had a big body in the middle in 6-10 Jordan Hill.
But when Hill and forward Luis Scola attempted to double-team Howard, it opened up plenty of lanes for almost everyone else in a Magic uniform.
The Magic took a 53-50 lead into halftime, but needed every one of the opening 24 minutes to earn that early edge.
The Rockets led by as many as nine points in a fast-paced first quarter in which both teams shot over 50 percent from the floor. Martin had 19 in the first half, including 11 in the first quarter, as he exploited a lane that was mostly void of Howard's presence.
Howard picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and got his third whistle of the night with 9:33 remaining in the second quarter. He logged just 10 minutes of action in the half.
The Magic stayed close and on the backs of Richardson and Bass, who had 13 and 11 first half points, respectively. Orlando also shot 51 percent from the field and 4 of 9 from the 3-point line. Richardson connected on all three of his long-range attempts.
''It was pretty much an even game going into halftime,'' Martin said. ''He (Howard) sat the whole second quarter and it was one of those games going back and forth. He just showed what his presence can do on the court in the third quarter. Because none of us is going to grow into 7-foot-2 and become a shot blocker overnight.''
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said though he's been pleasantly surprised by how fast his team's offensive game has come along since the trade, that continuing to improve on the defensive end will be the focus on the upcoming five-game road trip. The Magic open the trip at Dallas on Saturday.
''That's where we've really got to improve and really have a change in mentality for some guys,'' Van Gundy. ''I think guys understand it's important. I think guys want to do it. It's just gonna take a little bit of time.''
Notes: The Magic's eight-game winning streak is their longest since they won eight straight last season from Feb. 28-March 13. ... Howard recorded his 26th double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. ... PG Jameer Nelson had eight assists, the 25th time this season he has led the Magic in that category.