Denton's Dish: The 5th Quarter (3/5/14)

By John Denton
March 5, 2014

ORLANDO – Here are five takeaways from the Orlando Magic’s 101-89 loss to the Houston Rockets at the Amway Center on Wednesday night:

KEY MOMENT OF THE GAME: With the Magic up 48-41 at the half, Houston responded with the first eight points of the third quarter to take its first lead since the game was 4-2.

From there, Howard took over with five baskets in the third quarter that went something like this: fastbreak dunk, alley-oop dunk, alley-oop dunk, hook shot off an offensive rebound and another alley-oop dunk. Howard made five of his six shots and grabbed five boards in a third period where Houston outscored the Orlando 34-17.

And in the fourth quarter, when the Magic stayed home to keep Howard from dunking the ball, James Harden gashed them repeatedly when driving down the lane. He scored 25 of his 31 points after halftime.

``(Harden) did a good job tonight of playing his game in the second half,’’ said Magic guard Arron Afflalo, who scored 18 points. ``In the third quarter (Harden) got some open looks and some free throws and it got them into a rhythm. He made some good plays and Dwight was really good around the basket.’’

MAGIC MAN OF THE NIGHT: Maurice Harkless helped to key Orlando’s stellar start with a first half where he was tearing up the floor and being a disruptive force on the defensive end.

Harkless had 12 points and four steals in the first half, helping the Magic build a big lead and stay ahead 48-41 at the half. His play was a big reason why Orlando made 12 of its first 16 shots (75 percent) and it led by as many as 14 points early in the second quarter.

Harkless has played his best basketball of the season over the past three weeks and the Magic want to keep him in the starting lineup so that he can play big minutes on the wing against starting small forwards. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was extremely pleased with how the 20-year-old Harkless stepped up to the challenge on Wednesday.

``We’ve been stressing activity and defense and he’s been stepping up and doing that,’’ Vaughn said of Harkless, who finished with 15 points and five steals. ``We want him to continue to rebound the basketball and get out in the lane and use his athleticism to get us easy buckets. He’s been doing a good job of playing on both ends of the floor.’’

QUOTABLE: Howard admitted after the game that it was weird to scan the faces of the Magic players and not see any of them that he played alongside of during his eight years in Orlando. The only remaining link, veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, was out sick and did not attend the game.

Magic standout rookie Victor Oladipo was also held out of the game because of a sore left ankle. Howard had some kind words about Oladipo’s enormous promise after the game.

``I understand that they are trying to rebuild and they’ve got a lot of young talent,’’ Howard said. ``I was surprised not to see Oladipo. He has a great opportunity here in Orlando to be awesome. He’s had some great games this year and he’s really led this team. Once the game starts to slow down for him he’s going to be a great player.’’

When talking about his messy exit from Orlando in 2012, Howard said before the game that he had ``forgiven the people that I needed to forgive.’’ He wouldn’t clarify who he had ``forgiven’’ after the game, although he seemed to have been referring to former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and former GM Otis Smith.

STAT OF THE NIGHT: Houston outscored the Magic 58-26 in the paint. The Rockets got off a whopping 46 shots in the paint and made 29 of them. By comparison, Orlando hit just 13 of 33 shots in the paint.

In addition to Howard’s many dunks, several other facets of his game looked very familiar to his time in Orlando. He turned the ball over six times, with three of them coming in the first quarter alone. Howard also missed half of his six free throws, splitting one of two three different times.

``Orlando came out and hit a lot of shots. And instead of us pointing the finger and complaining, we stuck together,’’ Howard said of the Rockets.

TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS: Howard said before the game that he hoped that there would be a time when Magic fans could fully forgive him for his messy divorce from the franchise in 2012. Before the game, Howard hoped that being nearly two years removed from his last game in Orlando would soften some of the bitter feelings directed his way.

``Last year was a little bit fresh with a lot of Magic fans. They were really upset with how things went down. But at the end of the day time deals all wounds,’’ Howard said Wednesday night before his Houston Rockets faced the Magic at the Amway Center. ``Even though it’s only been a year, I’ve forgiven the people that I needed to forgive. Hopefully the fans can forgive me for how the situation ended. But my love for the city will never change.’’

Vaughn never coached Howard, but he too said he hoped there would be a time when Magic fans could appreciate all of the good times that Howard was a part of during his eight seasons in Orlando. Afterward, he appreciated the passion displayed by Magic fans and the way they continue to stick up for the organization.

``The great thing about sports is that you can pay to get a ticket and you can come in and cheer or boo for whoever you want; it’s just part of sports,’’ Vaughn said. ``That’s a part of society that some people are liked more than others. What I do love about our fans is that they are passionate and they know they have a (Magic) group in our locker room that wants to be there (in Orlando). At the end of the day, that’s all we could really be concerned about.’’