The Orlando Magic could never quite catch up as the Houston Rockets laid it on them in the second quarter and held on for the wins at Toyota Center.
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The Houston Rockets quickly exposed every weakness the Orlando Magic had on the defensive end.
There was James Harden get stopped and swarmed and feeding it to Clint Capela or Nene cutting to the basket. There was a turnover igniting a fast break or an offensive rebound giving that gap for a 3-point shooter to squirt free. There was it all. The Magic were scrambling and twisted apart against the Houston Rockets.
And in one hammer, the Rockets took control of the game ripped the Magic apart. A 20-2 run to end the first quarter and start the second quarter gave the Rockets the lead.
They put together one final run to put the game out of reach as the Magic made a run in the third and fourth quarter to get the deficit to within nine points. Orlando could not generate the offense or make the big plays to close the gap.
The Magic could not hit 3-pointers consistently. And it seemed like when the Magic needed a big three, they could not find one. The Rockets hit them in bunches to bury the Magic.
Houston shot 16 for 38 (42.1 percent) from beyond the arc. Not the crazy amount of threes (a Magic opponent record 49) from the first meeting. But the Rockets were able to drive and dish into the perimeter with relative easy. When Orlando missed, Houston got out in transition and scored easy baskets. The Magic’s communication on pick and rolls and switching were extremely poor.
But Orlando missed a ton of shots. The Magic made just 6 of 25 (24.0 percent) from beyond the arc. It was difficult to get open shots. The Magic’s spacing remains a major concern.
So too does the consistency in effort. The Magic’s second unit gave up the large run to start the second quarter as the game got out of control.
And the news continues not to be good. Aaron Gordon left the game at halftime with a sore right foot. The Magic fought their way back into the game, but things continue to look bleak for the team’s hopes heading to the All-Star Break.
Nikola Vucevic is going to be Mr. Orlando Magic the rest of the year. His effort and energy in playing his role are never in question every game. And he is starting to produce more and more on the court. Vucevic at least provides the team a solid pulse.
Vucevic scored 14 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. During the Magic’s second-half comeback, Vucevic was gobbling up rebounds and setting the Magic up to get out in transition to score and come back. Vucevic was not much involved in the offense, but he made his presence felt. He was the best and most consistent player for the Magic all night.
Vucevic still had his moments where he looked exposed on pick and rolls. There were still moments where he looked a step off defensively. And there was plenty of poor communication behind him, a constant problem for the Magic. But Vucevic continues to soldier on and play his role for this team.
Unlike Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier did not perform his role and continues to struggle offensively since he returned from injury. The Magic needed his shooting to help spread the floor and needed him to help attack the basket, and he struggled to do both.
Fournier finished with 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting. He found a way to get into the paint some and score, specifically in transition. It was not an overall bad game. But his 1-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc sticks out. As one of the Magic’s only true shooters, the Magic need him to make those shots.
Fournier still seems a bit off since returning from the injury. The poor shooting has only made his sometimes spotty defense look all the worse.
Serge Ibaka can be both good and bad. Often in the same game. And he can do a lot of good things offensively and then fall back into bad habits. The Orlando Magic need Ibaka consistent on that end more often. And they need him to do better on the defensive end.
Ibaka got himself going offensively early and was one of the key reasons the Magic stayed relatively in the game. And he hit shots when the ball rotated to him in scoring 28 points on 13-for-20 shooting. He also added eight rebounds.
But when the Magic went to him in isolation, he struggled. And Ibaka struggled to slide over and help the weak side on defense. In the first quarter, giving up the lane to centers rolling into the paint. Ibaka’s rim protection continues to be an issue. But Ibaka was at least solid and consistent offensively when he got his opportunities.
The Orlando Magic did not sign D.J. Augustin for his defense. That is probably his biggest weakness. And it becomes clearer when he cannot hit his shots. But his defense was downright bad and he committed a few cardinal sins.
Augustin struggled to defend at point guard and fouled a few jump shooters. That is a momentum killer. And the Magic lost contact with the Houston Rockets largely in the second quarter with Augustin at the helm. Orlando struggled to get anything going in that 20-2 run. It was not a matter of missing shots, it was not even getting good shots.
Worse, Augustin made just one of five shots. His saving grace was getting to the line to make 8 of 11 free throws. But the Magic needed more from Augustin on defense to stem the tide.
The Houston Rockets do what the Houston Rockets do. They ripped apart a defense with their ability to drive and kick and pick and roll teams to death. They put the pressure on the Magic and the Magic defense collapsed time and time again.
James Harden 25 points and added 13 assists. The Rockets got 20 points and four 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza. It was a constant attack.
The Rockets certainly let go of the gas pedal in the second half as the Magic came back to make it a game. Orlando took advantage. But the Rockets were always in control. Even when they trailed by nine points in the first quarter. Houston always had that run coming to bury Orlando.