If your question was:
"What would happen if you gave a team an absurd number of back-to-backs with travel against tough teams?"
Also see the blog formerly known as:Third Quarter Collapse.
This is not to take anything away from Orlando, who played a strong game, have an excellent team, and make for a poor matchup for the Rockets without Yao. Orlando was hitting their shots with something better than their normal accuracy (and normal is very good for them).
Dwight Howard did not have to face his nemisis, Yao Ming and the Rockets really did suffer from their lack of height tonight. It might be the first time, but the effect was real, and painful. The Rockets didn't have that burst of energy that has allowed them to catch and pass teams in the past. We caught Orlando once, and then they pulled away for good on a red-hot-shooting run, spurred by their defense. The Magic are built to do that, and they did.
Against a team as good as Orlando, nothing less than the Rockets at their dewy freshest will be enough this season. Even that will be a tough ask. As Tom pointed out, Orlando basically does what the Rockets do, but this year they do it better, and oh yeah, their bench is good, too. Orlando, after all, is loaded (and paid) to be a championship contender, and they are playing that way.
Should I gripe about the refs? Is it expected? Am I that guy? I hope not. Let's see... Aside from Howard getting to flex his muscles and belabor just about anyone going inside tonight, it seemed about average. Some stuff bothered me, but some stuff always will. This seemed about the background level of reffing noise in the signal of the gameplay itself. A typical NBA game. (Though the Aaron Brooks "Beagle v St. Bernard" technical situation draws some ire below.)
Orlando made its shots. Houston didn't have an answer for Howard or the typical barrage of three-pointers. The Rockets were possibly tired. Despite the Rockets being heroic, it can happen, particularly if you live on the road, playing back to backs for the first 30% of the season.
On that note, a shout out to the mullets announcing for Orlando, saying the Rockets had whined about their schedule and looked like they didn't care tonight. I've not seen any night where the Rockets didn't care. "Didn't have it" is different from "didn't care".
Is it "whining" to point out that by pretty much every mathematical schedule difficulty measurement, the Rockets currently have one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedule in the NBA? No doubt they also looked up the winning percentage of road teams on the second game of a back-to-back as well when they drew their ineffable conclusion.
Do you know who else whines, by the way? Van Gundys. It's a Van Gundy family trait to be publicly aggrieved about something, anything, pretty much constantly. Often those gripes have real merit, but Stan has taken it to a new level. To my untutored eye, he appears to have spent a ton of time this season bitterly decrying the unfairness that plagues his 23-7 basketball team. If there was any justice in this sad, tattered world, Orlando might be 24-6!
What was good tonight?
Nobody got hurt.
Another good night for Landry and Scola, who combined for 34 pts, 8 rebounds, in about 50 minutes. This is pretty much expected these days, but they did it into the teeth of "Bizzaro Superman III" or whatever he's called.
Aaron Brooks, getting another T, after being bashed by another center. Why is this good? Because ABZ is mad as Hell and he's not going to... well, he's going to take it. Otherwise he's follow the sad path of Rasheed Wallace, I suppose. The NBA, "where ‘because I said so!'" happens. Maybe not so good, after all.
What was bad?
Rockets shooting, generally. Lots of bad bounces, that added up to 39% overall.
Orlando shooting and rebounding. Bad for us, anyway.
1-10 shooting for Trevor Ariza. Trevor is a good contributor but this was, let's say, not much of a contribution on the offensive end.
Jelly legs, annoyed guys away from their families at the holidays.
Aggravating Orlando announcers. Hey Orlando announcers - you can rag on the Rockets when your team beats LA as many games in the playoffs as a short-handed Houston did, ok? Or alternatively, on the rare occasion that Howard actually wins against Yao. Otherwise, why not be happy you won easily? You've got a great team there, a title contender, show some decorum. Note to Orlando fans - I am not blaming you, nor your team for this. Let's be clear.
Before anyone posts the (inevitable?) "Howard is better!" screed, check the results first - results count.