The Rockets couldn't get enough stops, plain and simple.
Houston started off sluggish, going down 11-2 early in the first quarter. The offense was completely stagnant and there was no ball movement. Nobody seemed to be focused, except for Patrick Beverley, who was trying to pull together a play. Perhaps everyone was more focused on tomorrow's game at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, because it seemed like Houston was overlooking this game and underestimating an Orlando team that ran them out of the gym by the end.
Orlando has wanted to push their tempo significantly more and, as of recent, has been doing a great job of it: They beat the Chicago Bulls 121-114 in their highest scoring game of the season and essentially did the same thing tonight against Houston.
Victor Oladipo and rookie Elfrid Payton, came out of the gates firing and played the entire game at a high level, finishing with 32 and 15 points, respectively. Even when Dwight Howard was in the game patrolling the paint, they still somehow managed to find easy layups and open shots around the lane.
After clearly taking the first quarter off, the Rockets finally woke up and started playing some basketball, as they began the second quarter with a 14-4 run. Josh Smith showed some energy and aggressiveness off the bench, sometimes a little too much, but he was able to find Dwight Howard some easy buckets around the rim, even throwing him a couple alley-oops from nearby. Overall, Smith's play was more positive than negative primarily because of the energy and defense he provided (a lot of turnovers, though).
Smith finished the night with five points, five assists, 10 rebounds and four turnovers, shooting a horrendous 2-of-11 from the field.
#Rockets are trying to mount a run. #Magic keep finding shots to go down. Confidence is rolling with this team.— Orlando Magic Daily (@OMagicDaily) January 15, 2015
One thing I found clearly evident from tonight: Nikola Vucevic is a monster.
Vucevic and all 275 lbs. him certainly was not afraid of Dwight Howard.
The 24 year old tallied 15 points and nine rebounds in the first half, and finished with 25 and 12. He showed us all his moves against Dwight tonight, whether it be a turnaround hook or drop step to either the baseline or lane, he quite possibly has more and better moves than the 29-year-old Howard.
The Montenegrin seven footer can even step out of the paint and hit the outside shot, something we couldn't even dream of Howard doing.
Oladipo and Vucevic, with 18 and 15 points, respectively, had 33 of Orlando’s 55 points for the first half.
This one-two punch for Orlando rivaled that of the usual dominance of Harden and Howard, who should have dominated this young team throughout this entire game, but Harden didn’t decide to turn it on until midway through the third quarter.
Not going to lie, tonight was pathetic— RocketsSocial.com (@Rockets_Social) January 15, 2015
Harden sped up the pace just like the Magic wanted and lead the Rockets to 14 fast break points midway through the third as Houston tried to make a run.
Harden finished with 26 points and 10 assists to lead the men in ketchup and mustard. Howard added 23 points, 12 in the third quarter alone, and eight rebounds, but it wasn't enough.
Though Houston started playing well and began to find their offense, it was too late, and Orlando was able to stay ahead also due to the Rockets inability to get consistent stops on the defensive end.
The Magic, particularly Oladipo and Vucevic, then Payton in the fourth quarter, were determined not to lose tonight, and they battled every possession in the fourth quarter; It showed more toughness to their team than their 14-27 record says.
Orlando went on a 13-6 run to end the game, and the Rockets get to go home with a sour loss to cap their road trip.
Next up, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.