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Rockets can't overcome key mistakes as they fall to the Magic

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The Rockets fell back to .500 with a loss to the Orlando Magic in a game filled with defensive breakdowns and sloppy fast breaks (and plenty of Dwight Howard dunks).

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets run above .500 has ended for now, due to a 104-101 loss to the Orlando Magic. The Rockets came in to the game having won three straight, while the Magic had won four of their past five games. This game was marked by runs from each team, with the Rockets and Magic taking turns on each quarter to jump out to a lead. Ultimately, the Rockets got cold in crunch time, and the Magic hit one more shot to earn the W.

The game started off with the Magic jumping out to a quick lead thanks to Nikola Vucevic's early 9 points. He was roasting Dwight Howard in the post in the first quarter, both offensively and defensively. The Rockets usually get off to really fast or really slow starts, and tonight was a really slow start until James Harden picked things up to close the quarter. Behind the beard's 13 points and 3 assists, the Rockets led 33-27 after one.

In the second quarter, the bench came in and immediately surrendered the lead. Aaron Gordon had all of his 14 points in the quarter, and the Rockets struggled to get back in transition off of misses. The magic had all of the momentum until a Donatas Motiejunas & Dwight Howard combination happened:

The Rockets and Magic traded buckets to end the half, with the Magic hitting a couple of threes to gain a 59-53 advantage.

The Rockets limped out of the halftime break, going 0-5 with a turnover and falling asleep on defense (yes, I'm looking at you again James Harden). Elfrid Payton (whose hair is slowly morphing into a creature of its own) tore up the Rockets bench, especially Ty Lawson.  The Rockets bench got cold offensively, and the Magic used this to their advantage to open up their biggest lead of the game at 87-74.

In the fourth, the Rockets used a 13-0 run to climb within one point at 89-88, and then Ty Lawson resurrected himself for about 4 minutes, scoring 9 points. James Harden hit some tough shots, and ultimately finished with 31 points and 7 assists, a good night from the beard. However, the Rockets got cold in crunch time, and then Evan Fournier hit a tough floater to give the Magic the 102-101 lead. The Rockets had a mess of a time trying to win the game, as Dwight Howard threw a pass to Trevor Ariza while falling to the ground. Ariza, who shot 4-14 (including 0-8 from downtown) predictably missed the shot, and the Magic hit their free throws to seal the deal.

Some other notes and observations:

  • Dwight Howard is an absolute monster in the pick and roll. He finished off 5 alley oops with ferocious dunks, prompting me to think: can Dwight just be happy doing that and cleaning up the boards? Dwight attempted to score in the post several times tonight, and let's just say they were less than pleasant to watch.
  • J.B. Bickerstaff went with the lineup of Lawson-Beverley-Harden-Ariza-Howard to close the game, which was fairly successful up until the final two minutes. However, it was interesting to see Motiejunas and Terrence Jones get 8 and 12 minutes respectively, considering they both had pretty good first halves (especially Jones). Even Clint Capela only played 19 minutes, and he had a very good showing (10 points, 5 rebounds, and a block on 5-5 shooting).
  • In the end, the Rockets couldn't overcome their crucial mistakes, whether it be cold stretches offensively or key defensive breakdowns. This was a VERY winnable game against a good team on the road, but hopefully the Rockets can channel their frustration into the key Christmas night showdown against the Spurs on Friday.