Francis and Nelson Lead Magic to First Win
Orlando 76, Houston 74
HOUSTON, Nov. 8 (Ticker) -- Steve Francis and Jameer Nelson carried the offensively challenged Orlando Magic on their shoulders down the stretch.
Francis scored a season-high 27 points and Nelson added 10 in the final 3 1/2 minutes to lead the Magic to their first win of the season, a 76-74 triumph over the short-handed Houston Rockets.
Making his second visit to Houston to face his former team after being dealt to Orlando for Tracy McGrady on June 29, 2004, Francis scored the Magic's first eight points of the final quarter for a 63-61 lead.
Nelson, who reached double figures for the first time this season, scored 10 of Orlando's final 13 points, including consecutive 3-pointers and a driving layup over 7-6 Yao Ming for a 75-71 edge with 51 seconds to go.
"(Francis) told me to keep shooting," said Nelson, who was 8-for-24 from the field in the Magic's first three games and missed all three shots in the first three quarters. "If he tells you to shoot, you do it. You have to be prepared to shoot. I'm a good shooter but Stevie gives me a lot of confidence when he tells me to keep shooting."
"The last couple of games, (Nelson) hasn't been making shots," Francis said. "I told him to stick with it and tonight, he came through for us."
Francis, who was a three-time All-Star in five seasons with Houston, single-handedly kept the Magic in the game for most of the fourth quarter and helped set up Nelson later in the period.
"(Francis) was on fire," Nelson said. "Steve could do whatever he wanted and when he is hot like that, it opens up the floor."
Although the Rockets limited the Magic to just 76 points, coach Jeff Van Gundy knows his team needs to get better defensively, especially down the stretch.
"There's a number of things, but mostly our inability to get stops down the stretch, where one guy goes for eight straight (points)," Van Gundy said. "We should have had a better close-out or we should block the shot."
Dwight Howard scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and DeShawn Stevenson added 12 points for the Magic, who shot just 38 percent (28-of-74) from the floor but held a 41-36 rebounding edge.
"We finally got one and at least we won't be 0-and-82," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "We all needed it for our mental being. We are improving every game. (Francis) had the perfect balance between looking for his own shot and penetrating and getting the ball outside."
After opening the season with a 10-point victory over Sacramento, the Rockets have dropped consecutive games to the Hornets and Magic. Houston again was without McGrady, a two-time scoring champion who is out with back spasms. His absence was obvious as the Rockets shot 37 percent (26-for-70).
"Every team experiences injuries," Van Gundy said. "They have Grant Hill out. We have McGrady out. There are no excuses for not being able to finish out a game."
The Rockets allowed the Hornets a 17-2 second-half run in their 94-81 loss on Saturday.
"We did some better things defensively and we're just not very good right now," Houston guard Jon Barry said. "I don't think it was a lack of intensity tonight. It's just disappointing because the easy thing to say is that Tracy's not here, but we're good enough. There's no excuse."
Yao scored 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, Juwan Howard 12 and Barry came off the bench to add 10 for Houston, which starts a five-game road trip Friday at Miami.
"Today, most of those shots were my shots," said Yao, who opened the season with back-to-back double-doubles but grabbed just four rebounds in this game. "I just missed them. We can't allow ourselves to feel frustrated. This is just the start of the season."