Denton: Magic at Rockets Analysis (12/8/13)


The longest road trip in Magic history – six games over all or part of 12 days – continues Monday night in Memphis when they face the Grizzlies. Orlando concludes the trip Wednesday night in Charlotte.

``There is no answer; we just have to win,’’ Afflalo said. ``There is no secret formula and us saying we’ll do this and do that. We just have to be beating that other team after 48 minutes. We’ve had good runs and good spurts and we’ve been competitive at times, and the game has looked in our favor at times. But when that buzzer goes off we have to find a way to come out victorious. The only way to build confidence on learning how to win games is to actually win them.’’

The Magic were forced to contend with Howard on the inside without starting center Nikola Vucevic, who missed his third straight game because of a sprained left ankle. He suffered the injury on Monday in Washington, D.C., when he accidentally stepped on the foot of a courtside cameraman.

Orlando couldn’t get much going offensively early on and it trailed 52-38 at the intermission. The Magic made just 13 of 47 shots (27.7 percent) in the first half and couldn’t keep pace with Houston’s high-octane offense. The Magic couldn’t even find the distance from the free throw line, missing seven of 16 tries in the first two quarters.

Afflalo came into Sunday’s game averaging a career-best 22.4 points per game, necessitating the Rockets put James Harden on him defensively. Afflalo had scored 20 or more in each of the past three games, including a stellar 43-point effort on Tuesday in Philadelphia. But he couldn’t shake free for shots on Sunday and had just eight first-half shots.

``He’s probably Enemy No. 1 on a lot of opposing scouting reports,’’ Vaughn said of Afflalo. ``His ability to create shots for himself and others has been great. He’ll continue to be No. 1 for a long time and that’s an adjustment that he’ll make. He’ll look at the tape and see how he can be better.’’

Despite not having Vucevic, Orlando did a solid job on Howard in the first half. Orlando’s Andrew Nicholson, who was sharing a birthday with Howard, stuffed the all-star center’s first shot. The Magic then poked two balls away from Howard in the lane. Howard didn’t have his first field goal until the 6:37 mark of the second period. He had only three field goals in the opening two quarters, but he did grab 11 rebounds.

Said Vaughn: ``The guys who played (against Howard) were great. (Maxiell) was great at putting up resistance. And Glen gave us what he had. But (not having Vucevic) affects shots, energy and substitution patterns. When guys miss, especially starters, it has an impact on your team.’’

For a second straight game, the Magic saw an encouraging start to the game devolve rather quickly. On Friday in New York, Orlando led by three points after one period before letting the game slip away. On Sunday, Orlando was up 9-2 after twice poking the ball away from Howard in the early going. However, the Rockets then got a jumper from Harden and five consecutive 3-pointers for a 17-0 run that gave them control of the game.

At one point in the first quarter, Houston had seven straight baskets come from beyond the 3-point stripe. The Rockets made seven of their nine 3-point attempts in the opening quarter. ``I felt like that fast start was almost like a false sense of security because they were missing shots and turning the ball over and we got the lead,’’ an agitated Nelson said. ``I felt like we relaxed a little bit. And when they delivered their punch we didn’t do a good job of taking it.’’


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