Playing at home for the first time in a week and a half, the Rockets looked rested and refreshed, as six players scored in double figures in leading Houston to 107-94 victory over the Orlando Magic. The Magic hung tough until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets turned up the defensive pressure and did what good teams are supposed to do: beat not so good teams at home.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Rockets started the game with Joey Dorsey at center and Donatas Motiejunas at power forward in an effort to combat the huge front line of Orlando with a bit of extra Dorsey muscle. It paid off as Dorsey put up 2 points, 4 rebounds and a block in seven minutes of action and helping the Rockets remember how to hit the boards.
Dorsey didn't see the court again after his first-quarter minutes, but the Rockets out-rebounded Orlando 15-10 in the period and his job was done.
The Rockets had some trouble keeping Orlando out of the paint early, however, as Victor Oladipo ran the floor and drove to the bucket on his way to 11 first-quarter points.
James Harden went 0-6 from the field, but 7 points from Dmo, 7 from Patrick Beverley and 5 from Trevor Ariza put the Rockets up 28-24 after the first buzzer.
The Rockets bench, as usual, provided a boost in energy and defense in the 2nd. In particular, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith did their thing, as Smith dropped in 8 points and Brewer finished the frame with 9 rebounds.
D-Mo looked particularly well-rested, showing a full array of spins, hooks and other post moves and also draining two triples. His 15 points helped offset Harden's 1-8 first-half shooting and gave the Rockets a slim 51-50 lead at the intermission.
The Rockets continued to have trouble with Oladipo's athleticism, as he had 17 at the half to keep the Magic in it.
The Rockets continued to go to a red hot Motiejunas to start the second half, and the Orlando attempts to double down began opening up the offense for the rest of the squad. D-Mo delivered several nice passes out of the post in the third to set up teammates and facilitated the Rockets guards' second-half activity.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, they also got sloppy in the third, committing several ugly turnovers and continuing to struggle from three in falling behind by seven points.
Back-to-back triples by Josh Smith to close out the quarter snapped Houston out of a five-and-half-game-long slump from deep and brought the Rockets back to within a single point, 78-77.
The Rockets used a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter and would never relinquish the lead again. Smith and Brewer continued to turn up the clamps defensively, and the Rockets were suddenly scorching from downtown, draining four more triples in the quarter.
A second Houston run in the fourth, this time 11-0, helped close out a 30-16 quarter and the win.
D-Mo finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists and looked to be back in mid-season form after a several-week slump. It was his sixth game with 20-plus points on the season.
Corey Brewer had a double-double, his second on the season, with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists.
The other Rockets in double figures were Smith, Harden and Ariza with 17 each and Beverly with 12. The Rockets shot 50.0 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point land, while holding Orlando to 42.7 percent shooting and only 27.3 percent from downtown. Oladipo led the Magic with 29 points. He had little help, as Nikola Vucevic couldn't take advantage of Dwight Howard's absence in scoring only 11 points on 5-17 shooting.
-The Rockets finished 11-27 from downtown, snapping out of a major funk that saw them shooting only 28 percent from beyond the arc in the last five games.
-Despite Jason Terry's absence, Pablo Prigioni still played only 12 minutes of action. His poor shooting and defense have kept him glued to Kevin McHale's bench. Hopefully, he gets it figured out. His court vision is better than anyone on this Rockets squad not named James Harden, and his measured approach could be a nice complement come playoff time to Terry's run-and-gun game and Beverley's hell-on-wheels attitude.
-The Rockets out-rebounded Orlando 47-40 after being crushed on the boards by an average of almost 16 per game over their last three games.
-The Rockets are now nipping at the heels of both Memphis and Portland for either the second or third seed (only 1.5 games separate the three teams) while staying only 3.5 games above the 7th place Spurs with 15 games left to play. Finishing anywhere from the second seed to the seventh is absolutely possible.