Postgame Report: Magic vs. Rockets (3/5/14)

By John Denton
March 5, 2014

ORLANDO – Maybe it’s just wishful thinking when Dwight Howard says that ``time heals all wounds,’’ but there was a bit of a thaw in the icy relationship between the superstar center and the city where he played the first eight years of his NBA career on Wednesday night.

Not only were there fewer boos and the intensity of the vitriol spewed from the Amway Center crowd was dramatically ratcheted down from a year ago, there was even a smattering of cheers when a D12 tribute video was shown between the first and second quarters. Howard might have sent the Magic into rebuilding mode the past two seasons, but the organization took the high road in showing some the best plays from the All-NBA center during his eight, mostly great years in Orlando.

Howard said afterward that he appreciated the gesture by a Magic organization that he once vowed that he would never leave. During the game, Howard went out and created quite the highlight reel of his own by powering his surging Rockets to a 101-89 defeat of the short-handed Magic.

Howard scored 11 of his 19 points in the third quarter to help Houston (42-19) outscore the Magic (19-44) 58-26 on points in the paint. Howard also had 13 boards as the Rockets – owners of the NBA’s best record since Jan. 1 (21-6) – outrebounded Orlando 49-34.

Afterward, Howard said he understood why some Magic fans still screamed and booed. He admitted that he peeked into the crowd of 16,012 at times in the game to look for familiar faces and he appreciated the familiar blue and white No. 12 jerseys that caught his eye.

``I played here and I know people are upset that I left and they are going to boo. They are going to let their frustrations out and that’s totally understandable,’’ Howard said. ``I appreciate all of the fans that did cheer and the once that have been fans of myself since Day 1. I had some great years here and the reason that I left had nothing to do with the fans. I’ll always be grateful for the people that supported me from Day 1.’’

The crowd razzed Howard each time he touched the ball and especially when Magic center Kyle O’Quinn (eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots) stuffed his hook shot in the third quarter. Still, the crowd couldn’t keep the Rockets from taking over in the second half. Harden scored 25 of his 31 points after halftime, while Howard had 11 points in a bruising third quarter.

Arron Afflalo, who was back after missing five games with a sprained ankle and an illness, did his best to keep the Magic (19-44) within striking distance. Nikola Vucevic stood up to Howard most of the night with his 29th double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Maurice Harkless chipped in 15 points. Tobias Harris, who scored a career-best 31 points on Sunday, was disappointed in himself in making just three of 12 shots.

``It’s real disappointing because we started off so well,’’ Harris said. ``The third quarter, we just didn’t get it going. I take a lot of this on myself. I didn’t come and play for my team, so a game like this is disappointing even more because I let my team down.’’

The Magic’s backcourt was severely depleted on Wednesday night with veteran point guard Jameer Nelson out ill and rookie Victor Oladipo being held out because of soreness in his left ankle. Dressed in a suit, Oladipo was up off the bench several times during the game cheering on his teammates and his injury isn’t thought to be serious.

In continuation of the celebration of the 25th anniversary season, the Magic had a video tribute for Howard and former Strength and Conditioning coach Joe Rogowski. The Howard video featured several dunks and blocks, his Superman stuff in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and his game-winning dunk over Tim Duncan in 2007. There was a smattering of boos during the video, but it was nothing even remotely close to the anger and vitriol spewed last March during Howard’s first return to Orlando.

Said Howard: ``I do appreciate it. I thought we had some great times here in Orlando and I’ll never forget them. It was good to see some of those things and plays that we had here.’’

Houston, the NBA’s hottest team since Jan. 1 at 21-6, also got 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Orlando native Chandler Parsons. The longtime Magic fan when he was growing up in suburban Orlando had more than 100 friends and family in the crowd.

Displaying moves seen so often by Magic fans through the years, Howard flexed his muscles in the third period and took over the game. Howard had five third-quarter field goals – four of them being dunks and the other one a hook shot off an offensive board. His domination inside helped the Rockets surge to a 75-65 lead.

The Magic led 48-41 at the half despite getting smashed on the glass 28-18. Howard had seven points and four rebounds early on, but his production was mostly canceled out by the 10 points and five boards that Vucevic delivered in the first half.

Orlando jumped all over the sluggish Rockets in the early going, building a lead as large as 14 points in the first few seconds of the second quarter. The Magic had been off for two days and Houston was a playing a night after beating Miami, and it showed early on. The Magic made a staggering 12 of their first 16 shots (75 percent).