Rockets 118, Magic 110

With their playoff hopes potentially hinging on each game down
the stretch, the Houston Rockets can’t afford to give away
wins.

Thanks to what are becoming familiar late-game heroics by James
Harden, those postseason prospects remain very much in sight.

Harden scored 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, as
the Rockets rallied for a 118-110 victory over the Orlando Magic on
Friday night.

The Rockets stopped a two-game skid and ended a five-game losing
streak to the Magic. Houston trailed by two late in the game,
before using an 11-0 run to seize control. Chandler Parsons and
Carlos Delfino each added 21 points.

”All these games are going to count, especially if we want to
make the playoff push,” Harden said. ”We try not to (think about
it), because we try not to get sidetracked by thinking about too
many other things.”

Tobias Harris scored a career-high 27 points to lead Orlando,
followed by Arron Afflalo with 19 and Niklola Vucevic with 18
points and 10 rebounds.

It was just the latest disappointing finish for a Magic team
that has dropped two in a row and 30 of their last 34.

”We went out there tonight and played a heck of a game, brought
a lot of energy, and battled to the end of the game,” Harris said.
”It just shows that as a team we’re making steps. … If we can
just keep building on this, I think that would be good for
us.”

For three quarters the Magic actually seemed like the crisper
team on both ends, spurred by the play of the second-year
Harris.

They took a one-point lead into a fourth quarter that saw the
lead change throughout.

The Magic reached the century mark first at 100-98, before
turnovers and bad possessions led the Rockets’ spurt, which put
them up 109-100 with 3:28 to play.

Harris finally answered with a basket, but Houston’s Delfino
responded with a 3-pointer on the other end to grow the lead to
112-102.

E’Twaun Moore hit a jumper to cut it to 112-107, and Orlando
then got the ball back on a miss by Houston. But Afflalo stepped
out of bounds on the ensuing possession – the Magic’s 16th turnover
of the night – and the Rockets were able to close it out at the
free-throw line.

The Magic had eight turnovers in the first three quarters, but
nine in the final 12 minutes.

They also lost despite shooting a season-high 56 percent (44 for
78) on the night.

The biggest contribution for the Rockets might have been from
guard Patrick Beverley, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the
fourth, to go along with three steals.

Parsons said the next step in their playoff chase is improving
defensively.

”We can score on anybody,” he said. ”We’ve got to put all our
effort, all our energy and the defensive end. We’ve got to be able
to win games when we don’t score 100 points.”

Harden (knee) and Jeremy Lin (ankle) were both game-time
decisions Friday after sitting out the Rockets’ practice on
Thursday. Both started as scheduled, though, and were needed to
keep up with an inspired Magic team offensively.

The Rockets shot 60 percent (24 for 40) in a fast-paced first
half, including 11 3-pointers. But Orlando was just as strong at 55
percent (24 for 43) and trailed just 64-61 at halftime.

Parsons had 15 first-half points to lead the Rockets, with
Nicholson and Harris each scoring 13 for the Magic.

Orlando also shared the ball with 20 assists and took care of
the ball with only four turnovers.

That changed in the closing minutes, a recurring theme that
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn also was high on the effort of Houston’s
Beverley.

”I think he came into the game and finished the stretch run for
them,” Vaughn said. ”He hit key shots for them and, at the same
time, was able to apply a little defensive pressure. I give a lot
of credit to him and the fact that they were able to turn up the
defense a little bit on us.”

The Rockets return home to host Dallas on Sunday, hoping to keep
their momentum alive.

Coach Kevin McHale said while it was nice to breakthrough with a
victory, they still aren’t playing like a team that is playoff
bound by his standards.

”We don’t have a great rhythm right now,” he said. ”We’ve
been a team that’s kind of start and stop…You already know we’ve
got to hit the start button here again and get some rhythm going.
If we can get a couple wins, get our practice in tomorrow and (can)
hopefully start something good.”

NOTES: Moore had a career-high 11 assists. … Magic PG Jameer
Nelson missed his fifth straight game with a left patella tendon
contusion. He remains day-to-day. … Former world champion boxer
Roy Jones Jr. sat courtside.

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at
http://www.twitter.com/khightower.