The Orlando Magic are a real thorn in Houston's side. When these teams met earlier this season, I wrote about how Orlando had outplayed or played with Houston for 7 out of the 8 quarters last season. The Magic pulled away late in Orlando and Houston did the same in Houston. Still the other quarters were close and feisty.
Nothing changed when they met again in early November, with the game needing overtime to be decided. The contest featured 18 ties and 22 lead changes. Houston won, but they hardly deserved it. Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and Aaron Gordon all had field days with the Rockets. In fact, Orlando almost certainly would have in regulation had Nic Vucevic not gotten hurt after 17 minutes of play.
Tonight, Houston heads into Amway with a 15-14 record and a primetime Christmas Day date with the Spurs on their minds.
The Magic are 16-12 and don't play again until Boxing Day. Elfrid Payton is questionable with an ankle injury.
AK's observations and questions for the game presented in bullet point form, because he's lazy.
- Channing Frye got a DNP-CD when these teams met in November. He's starting now. If the Rockets don't have nightmares about him ripping them a new one last year in Orlando, they had better watch some tape.
- Vucevic is back and playing his best ball of the season. This will be a big test for Dwight and the Rockets' bigs in general.
- Orlando has a ton of scrappy players. How well Houston covers the boards will be huge.
- Oladipo will make James Harden's life difficult tonight. Will any other Rocket step up?
- Ty Lawson returns from suspension. Will he play?
- Will Jason Smith continue to be the embodiment of anti-Moreyball with his long 2-point jumpers that always go in?
- The Magic get to the line fewer than all but two teams in the league. Houston gets there more than anybody (OH MY GOSH GUYZ HARDEN FLOPZ LOL!). If that trend continues it will play into Houston's hand.
- Which Houston bench will we get tonight? The one that works its tail off or the one that holds on for dear life to give Harden a whole two minutes of rest at a time?
- Is Houston's defense trending upward? Against the Hornets, the Rockets employed a "switch everything" philosophy for most chunks of the game. It's a strategy that can work against a Charlotte team without players who can beat you off the dribble, but the Magic have a few such players that could cause problems if J.B. Bickerstaff and co. continue that method.
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