Daily Confidential

The Orlando Magic are struggling so much that not even the recent strong play of All-Star Dwight Howard has made a difference.

The Magic look to avoid falling even further in the Eastern Conference standings when they host the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

Howard is averaging 24.0 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting 73.9 percent from the field over his last nine games, but the Magic are just 2-7 in those contests. Orlando (27-29) has lost three in a row and 25 of 39 since a 13-4 start to the season.

Howard had 20 points and 13 rebounds in Friday's 94-89 loss to Detroit, his fifth consecutive game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Magic, though, didn't make a field goal in the first 10:30 of the fourth quarter and were outscored 27-18 in the period in falling to the Pistons for the second time in three nights.

"Once again, we committed too many turnovers in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line," coach Brian Hill said. "We had six turnovers in that quarter. A couple of careless fouls which put them on the line for no reason at all, and you just can't do that against a team like this."

The prolonged slump has dropped Orlando to seventh place in the conference.

"We have to correct those mistakes down the stretch, but we competed," Grant Hill said Friday. "If we do that for the rest of the way, then we give ourselves a chance."

The Magic will be hosting a Houston team that has already matched its win total from last season. The Rockets (34-20) are 15-3 against teams in the East and 7-1 against Southeast Division opponents, with their only loss coming Friday in Atlanta.

Houston, which leads the league in opponents' scoring and field-goal percentage, lost 105-99 to the Hawks - who average a league-worst 92.6 points per game.

"They played no defense," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "This is the lowest-scoring team in the NBA. The worst field-goal percentage shooting team in the NBA. And they shredded us."

The Rockets are holding opponents to 90.8 points per game this season, but have allowed 97.8 over their past four contests, going 2-2 in that stretch.

"You know what? We just didn't play defense tonight. Plain and simple," Tracy McGrady said Friday. "The thing that makes us great, we kind of got away from that the past four or five games. You score 99 points on the road, you're supposed to win by 15 points."

McGrady had 37 points against the Hawks, his 14th game over 30 points since All-Star center Yao Ming went down with a fractured right leg Dec. 23. McGrady is averaging 28.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his last eight contests.

Houston has won its last four visits to Orlando after dropping 10 straight there. The Rockets have also won seven of the last eight overall meetings following a 1-14 stretch in the series.

The Magic visit the Rockets on March 11 to conclude this season's series.

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