Considering they were facing the NBA’s highest-scoring team, defense wasn’t the sore spot for the Orlando Magic against the Houston Rockets.
Offense was an entirely different matter.
Until the fourth quarter, the Magic never got into anything resembling a rhythm against a team giving up an average of 101.8 points a game. Although Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson sparked a rally to trim what was a 22-point deficit to 10, the Rockets withstood the Magic’s challenge and came away with a 98-88 victory.
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The Magic, who saw their losing streak extended to five games, shot only 27.7 percent (13 of 47) in the first half. Glen Davis and Andrew Nicholson were their only players to score in double figures through three quarters. Both of them spent the final 12 minutes on the bench as the Magic made their run with a lineup of Afflalo, Nelson, E’Twaun Moore, Jason Maxiell and Maurice Harkless.
Nikola Vucevic missed his third consecutive game because of a sprained his left ankle. A healthy Vucevic would have made a significant difference against Dwight Howard, who had 20 points and 22 rebounds against his former team on his 28th birthday.
The Rockets connected on seven of their 11 3-point attempts in the first quarter, picking up where the New York Knicks left off Friday night in the Magic’s 121-83 loss. But they were only 3 of 22 from that distance the rest of the way.
Nelson finished with 15 points in his 600th game as a member of the Magic. Nick Anderson and Howard are the only other players in franchise history to have reached that milestone.
The turning point
After the Magic raced out to a 9-2 lead in the opening four minutes, the Rockets went on a 23-3 run. Except for a jump shot by James Harden, all of their scoring came from 3-point range.
The difference maker
Harden, who began the night fifth in the league in scoring with a 24.4-point average, finished with 27 points and 10 assists.
Stat of the game
Howard, who set a single-game record for free throws attempted (39) and made (25) by a Magic opponent nine months ago, went to the line 14 times and hit eight of his tries.
Monday night at Memphis, 8 p.m. (FOX Sports Florida).