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Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic game preview

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to have a civilized discussion about the trade deadline.

I know that you can taste it. “The Rockets are contenders, AK! Didn’t you watch them in December? They need to make a trade now to right the ship and give them a chance in the playoffs.”

Let’s dissect those points.

  1. The Rockets are contenders. Unfortunately, they aren’t. In fact, there are only three contenders this year. And if we’re being really honest, there’s really just the one. The Golden State Warriors are a shoe-in to win the title. The Kevin Durant defection to the Dark Side basically guaranteed them a bounce-back Larry O’Brien trophy. But even if it wasn’t their season, the Rockets are not good enough to beat them and the Spurs in May.
  2. Didn’t you watch them in December? Yeah, December was magical. Running off a 10-game winning streak was special. Only losing 2 games was impressive. The Rockets were hitting on all cylinders. It was super fun to watch. But the more we watch this team the more December looks like the outlier. The Rockets are an above-average team thanks to James Harden. When everyone is shooting the ball well, Houston can beat anyone. I know they’re tired right now, but I can’t see Houston having enough shooting to beat the Spurs, Warriors, and Cavs four out of seven times, with their opponents having homecourt advantage in each series most likely.
  3. They need to make a trade now. Why do they have to make a trade now? Any player that even moves the needle a little bit for the Rockets will require at least a first round pick and possibly a rotation player not named Corey Brewer. And most will be free agents this summer. Is it worth giving up a first round pick for three months of a player’s services who will probably be a free agent at the end of the year? As great as Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka are, neither they nor any other available player makes the Rockets better than the Spurs and Warriors. And that’s the goal. Just getting a little better is more worthless than a Tony Brothers officiated game. If the choice is “Give up a first round pick for a 5% at best chance at getting to the Finals” vs. “Wait until this summer when you can draft/trade that first rounder AND sign a big free agent,” why choose the former?

Anyway, time to move on.

The Orlando Magic are 20-33 and 2-6 in their last eight games. With the playoffs a distant dream and the trade deadline fast approaching, they’re a team that could turn on the tank initiative. But they still have a ton of talent. Like the Rockets teams of the early 2010s, you see the ability to win games, but no star to put them over the top. Nevertheless, remember that these Magic took an 8-point lead into halftime against Houston and held James Harden to 14 points on 5-15 shooting and 0-8 from downtown.

In fact, Houston’s bench won them the game despite an abysmal shooting night. Combined, they were 12-34 (35%) overall and 4-20 (20%) from deep.

Aaron Gordon will likely take on the task of defending Harden once again, and the 3-man rotation of bigs will keep Houston occupied. Expect plenty of Nene and Clint Capela tonight to counter Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, and Bismack Biyombo.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT on NBA TV.