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Three observations from the Rockets’ victory over the Magic

The return of a sharpshooter. Ball-movement. And James Harden’s effort led the Houston Rockets to a blowout victory over the Orlando Magic. 

Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

Here are three observations from the Houston Rockets’ 132-90 victory over the Orlando Magic, Friday night inside the Toyota Center in Houston.

Winning and losing makes a difference when reading James Harden’s effort

Whether it’s his social media accounts or body language on the court, James Harden’s trade request has everyone reading his every move. And on Wednesday, his lackluster performance caused the general public to question his effort. Harden scored 15 points on 14 shots in a 114-107 loss to the Pacers. His lack of aggressiveness led Rockets’ analyst Calvin Murphy to believe Harden quit on the team.

Friday night, Harden took one less shot than he did in Indiana, en route to another 15-point outing. The frustration Harden displayed against the Pacers converted into satisfaction against the Magic.

But why should anyone feel optimistic about Harden staying in Houston after averaging 13.5 shot attempts in the last two games? Perhaps Harden’s lack of shooting is a sign of buying into Stephen Silas’ coaching philosophy.

“James’ effort has been great. He has done everything I needed him to do. I don’t have a response to anyone saying that he is not playing hard because that is not what I see — from him or the group. My job is to make it easier to play to your strengths. That’s the goal.” — Silas

Silas said he wanted more ball movement on offense and less isolation play. As a result, Harden has turned into his top facilitator. He registered 13 dimes in the win over the Magic. In the last two games, Harden has averaged a team-high 12.5 assists.

If Harden was not buying in, he would be doing everything possible not to share the ball. The video below shows Harden is choosing the latter.

The return of Ben McLemore

The Rockets had their best shooting performance of the season. Houston connected on 56.0 percent of their shots from the floor while draining 22 triples. Their success beyond the arc was a team effort, but Houston’s most significant contribution came from Ben McLemore.

McLemore shot a perfect 5-for-5 from deep to end the night with 15 points. After the game, Silas called McLemore a “stone-cold shooter.” The plan was to play McLemore only 10 minutes, but Silas awarded him an additional six after his first three triples.

It was his first game of the season after the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocols ruled McLemore out for the first four games. He was active for the previous two contests but received two DNP’s for conditioning. McLemore may not have another flawless shooting night, but the Rockets can depend on his production to enhance their bench.

“After missing all this time, I am just happy to be back. I just got back to my craft. I just went out there and played my role. Coach does a great job of running sets for me to help me get into a rhythm. I am just happy and blessed to be back out there on the court.” — McLemore

Last season, McLemore was vital to the Rockets’ success. He registered 10.1 points while shooting 40.0 percent from deep — a team-high. There were some concerns about whether McLemore could sustain his play. But early returns are proving that McLemore could be even better.

Dating back to the preseason, McLemore is averaging 11.0 points on 44.0 percent shooting from behind the arc. With the Rockets sharing the ball more under Silas, McLemore will have better looks as a catch-and-shoot shooter than he did under Mike D’Antoni.

McLemore’s performance against the Magic was just as loud as his arrival to the post-game podium shouting, “ I’M BAAAAAAAAAAACK!”

Time to jell as a team

Normally when a team wins by 42 points, the general public are ready to crown them NBA champions. But when the blowout is against a team plagued by injuries, it doesn’t say much. While this was a must-win for a team riding a two-game losing streak, the Rockets got something they desperately needed — time.

Whether it was Harden’s late arrival to camp or players out due to COVID protocols, the Rockets have only had their full team together a handful of times. Even against the Magic, the Rockets were down a starter in Danuel House Jr. — who missed his third consecutive game due to a back injury.

The lack of time the Rockets have had together is the primary reason behind their 3-4 start to the season. It helped that it came in a win, but the time they received to build their on-court camaraderie was Houston’s most important achievement.

The Rockets' performance against the Magic was a glimpse into what Kelly Iko of The Athletic has deemed, Silish.

Their ball movement kept everyone involved on the offensive end. On a night where they recorded a season-high 34 assists, the Rockets had six players who scored in double figures. On defense, they closed out with aggression and held Orlando to eight triples while shooting 27.6 percent from three.

“Obviously, they were very decimated and they did not have their guys. We took advantage and played hard. Our concepts seem like they are starting to sink in a little more. The way we started the Indiana game and tonight’s game, it seems like what we are trying to do is starting to kick in. Just recognizing situations quicker and reacting in the correct way. Definitely a good feeling to get this win.” — Silas

Following the win over an injury-riddled Magic team, the Rockets will return to action Sunday, when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers. Tip-off is slated for 6 P.M. CT inside the Toyota Center.