By John Denton
April 1, 2013
``These guys don’t quit,’’ Harkless continued. ``We’ve been in holes a lot this year, but we always fight back. I love playing with these guys because we never quit.’’
However, Harkless was one of the few bright spots as Harris struggled through another poor shooting night (six of 17, 18 points). Beno Udrih (17 points, 10 assists and three 3-pointers) and Kyle O’Quinn (10 points and eight rebounds) and Andrew Nicholson (10 points) gave the Magic a chance by continuing to play hard throughout the fourth quarter.
Houston (41-33) shot 45 percent, hit nine 3-pointers and scored 60 points in the paint to lead by 18 points after one quarter, by 22 points at the half and 16 after three periods. Orlando’s 14 points in the first quarter were the fewest the Rockets have allowed in an opening period all season.
``That’s the game right there (in the first quarter). I t5hink we gave up over 30 points in the first two quarters and we didn’t have a stop in the first 11 possessions of the game,’’ Vaughn said. ``So we talked about how we have to have to have a better mindset going into the game. But you see the difference in the second half when they score 25 and 21.’’
One of the storylines coming into the game was the showdown between Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Houston’s Asik, two of the NBA’s most promising young big men. Asik and Vucevic came into the game ranked first and second in the NBA in rebounding improvement from last season to this season and tied for second in scoring improvement.
But on this night, Asik clearly got the best of Vucevic, Orlando’s second-year pro. Asik, signed to a $25 million restricted free-agent contract last summer, made 11 of 13 shots and scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. Vucevic, who has 39 double-doubles this season, struggled through a 12-point, 12-rebound night. He made just five of 19 shots.
Lin, another offseason acquisition by the Rockets, had 19 points, 11 assists and two 3-pointers. Francisco Garcia added 14 points and four 3-pointers.
Orlando’s five-game, 10-day road trip continues in San Antonio on Wednesday night. Vaughn won a championship there as a reserve point guard in 2007 and he spent the last two seasons working for the Spurs as an assistant coach.
Both teams were playing extremely shorthanded because of injuries and illness. Orlando was again without veteran point guard Jameer Nelson (sprained ankle), while fellow starters Arron Afflalo (hamstring tear) and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis (broken foot) have been lost for the season.
``It’s interesting when you get on the road and it’s about how you take care of yourself on your day off and how you prepare yourself,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s good learning lessons for young guys. At the beginning of the game we needed a better focus.’’
Houston, meanwhile, didn’t have its top two scorers – James Harden (26 ppg.) sat out the game with a sore foot, while Orlando native Chandler Parsons was out because of food poisoning. Houston coach Kevin McHale joked before the game that Chandler – a University of Florida graduate – couldn’t play because, ``I’m just saying that the Gators got whooped by a Big 10 team and his belly hurt.’’ Florida lost to Michigan in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Down 23 points at the break, Orlando got within 74-62 when Udrih and Harkless hit consecutive 3-pointers. But two baskets by Asik and seven quick points by Lin buried Orlando back into a 19-point hole.
A collision of poor shooting by the Magic and an aggressive Houston team made for a fairly lopsided first half. Orlando found itself in a 65-43 halftime hole after making just 17 of its 45 shots, while the Rockets drained 53 percent of their shots and hit seven 3-pointers.
Harkless kept the game from totally getting out of control early on by scoring 17 first-half points. He repeatedly drove hard to the rim and made six of his first 10 shots. His three-point play late in the second quarter got Orlando to within 11 points of the lead, but it would be short-lived as Houston quickly pushed the advantage back up to as much as 24 points in the first half.
``I was just seeing gaps and attacking them,’’ Harkless said. ``I was getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line and knocking down shots.’’
The game could not have started much worse for the Magic as the Rockets scored 16 of their first 21 points on either layups or point-blank range hook shots. Houston had a double-digit lead before Orlando hit its second basket and the lead swelled to 15 by the midpoint of the first quarter.
And after it allowed 57 percent shooting to Houston and made just five of 19 shots itself, Orlando was in a crushing 32-14 hole after one period.
``We definitely started off slow, they got on us fast and they kind of dominated us inside in the beginning – including myself,’’ Harris said. ``That’s something that we’ve got to look at because we have to have our minds right. In the future we know we have to bring it from the get-go.’’
Vaughn said he continued to be impressed with the steps that Harkless made in the game – both offensively when he was attacking the rim and defensively when he was accepting several different assignments.
``He was really good on both ends of the floor and he’s just playing with a lot more confidence,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s great to see him handling the basketball, shooting shots with no hesitation, attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line for us. And on the defensive end, down the stretch we had him guarding Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin. So we’re asking a lot of him, but I think he can handle it.’’
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