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Monday December 26, 2011 10:20 PM

Magic Race Past Rockets

Orlando gets hots late, sends Rockets to 104-95 loss in regular season opener

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Forget about the looming drama and non-stop trade talk. For now, the story in Orlando is the same as it’s been for nearly half a decade: When the Magic get hot from beyond the arc, they’re awfully tough to beat.

That was the formula Orlando followed to a T Monday night, combining red-hot perimeter shooting down the stretch with a dominant performance down low to ruin the Rockets’ regular season opener by sending them to a 104-95 defeat.

J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu were especially lethal, knocking down 6 of the 8 shots they took from downtown – including five makes in the final frame alone – to offset strong performances from the Rockets’ Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola and the newest member of the team, Samuel Dalembert.

In fact, Dalembert’s debut in a Rockets uniform could not have gone much better, especially given the fact he was playing without the benefit of training camp or even a single practice with his new teammates. He was forced into action just a few minutes into the game when Jordan Hill picked up two quick fouls and the 10th-year center from Seton Hall immediately made his presence felt, blocking a shot on one end before finishing a sweet alley-oop feed from Lowry at the other minutes later. By the end of the night, Dalembert has scored 10 points, grabbed five boards, collected three blocks and snagged two steals – all in a tidy 20 minutes of work, giving his teammates a glimpse into life with a true rim protector and rebounding machine.

“Since I’ve been playing against this team (Orlando) for so long, I kind of know exactly what to do and I was able to really help out and contribute today,” said Dalembert when asked how he was able to come right in and contribute without the benefit of practice. “The first couple minutes was a little weird but after, you pretty much get a feel and understanding of what they were wanting. They were trying to keep the plays as simple as possible for us and I was able to grasp some of it … and improvise when the plays broke down.”

Unfortunately for Houston, even Dalembert’s impressive debut performance was not enough to prevent Dwight Howard and the Magic from enjoying a significant and game-changing advantage in the painted area. With Howard leading the way, Orlando outscored Houston 56-38 inside the paint, due in large part to the Magic’s ability to get to the rim with apparent ease. According to Hoopdata.com, Orlando took 27 shots at the rim Monday night – nine more than did the Rockets – while converting on 21 of those opportunities.

And as is so often the case, that interior dominance eventually extended to the perimeter as the Rockets, so preoccupied with trying to prevent easy buckets at the rim, ended up conceding far too many wide-open 3s. The Magic missed many of those outside opportunities early on, but with the game on the line Orlando found the range and the Rockets paid the price.

Making the degree of difficulty even steeper, meanwhile, was the fact that Houston never could quite find its own bearings from beyond the arc. The Rockets finished 6-of-27 from downtown, with the usually sharpshooting Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger a combined 0-for-9.

Still, the Rockets kept the game close until the final minutes, thanks largely to tremendous efforts from Scola and, especially, Lowry. Consistent as ever, Scola finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Lowry, meanwhile, looked like an All Star. Showing off the same sort of form that saw him take his game to a higher level the last two months of last season, Lowry was electric on both ends of the floor, scoring 20 points, dishing out 12 assists and finishing just three rebounds shy of his second career triple-double.

Houston also delivered an encouraging showing on the boards against an Orlando team that is typically one of the best rebounding clubs in the NBA. The Rockets outrebounded the Magic 41-35 on the night, while giving up just six offensive rebounds and only seven boards total to Howard. True, single game sample sizes are hardly indicative of a trend, but given Houston’s offseason commitment to significant improvement on the glass, Monday’s game could definitely be seen as a positive step in the right direction – even if the end result was not.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the team’s intensity) “We had probably, we’ll go back and look at it, but I could think eight or nine possessions where we really broke down defensively. The lob, straight line drives, the coverage. Guys got tired too, I mean, I honestly have to tell you I didn’t think I’d be playing Samuel Dalembert 20 minutes that game. But Sammy did some stuff. In defense of Sammy, we had some plays called where he was in the wrong spot and he doesn’t know, so I can’t, like I told the guys, I can’t (complain) about their effort. Their effort was solid. We had mental breakdowns though, and that’s what we’re going to have to stop and we had some transitional baskets but we didn’t get back. We had some coverages on the wing where we blew the coverage and they got easy baskets on it and stuff like that. We didn’t get enough push in the game, we didn’t get enough stops to get enough push, so we have a long way to go. It was the first game, again, where you know Hedo made some big shots that seemed to stem a couple of rallies and we could never get over on the top of it. We’re going to have to definitely improve our defense; we’re going to have to improve our ability to chase guys off. I thought Redick and Richardson got too much separation off of simple pin downs and we’re going to take a look at it on film, as a team and we’ll get better.”

On the team’s offense…

“Again, we had some simple coverages that we got picked off on, we had some simple coverages where we made mistakes on and those are going to happen and I understand that. Mentally now, we’re asking them to do a lot of different things with new coverages and a lot of different things with new calls and stuff like that. Some of that was blown. Overall, I think this team will play hard, I think they’re feisty. I think (when) Sam gets in shape he’ll help us out a great deal. Tonight was a nice night where we had a guy like Patrick come in and do his thing a little bit because Luis really got extended minutes and I thought down the stretch we were a little bit tired. Kyle probably played too much. I probably played a lot of guys too much. I did not want to play Luis 38, and I didn’t want to play Kyle 36 ½ but that’s kind of the way it shook up.”

On the new coaching staff and limited practice time…

“You guys have to understand that, we’re going to use every minute we have, the guys are going to be on the floor more than they’re used to. They’re used to playing and having days off and we’re not going to have a lot of days off. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time in film room and a lot of time just on the floor walking through stuff because right now I’m a little bit more concerned about, you know, we have to get in better shape and I understand that but I didn’t think that in 15 days we would be in great shape. But we have to get ourselves more mentally tied in, where mentally we’re on the same page all the time and that’s the big thing for a defensive team. Our system defensively requires everybody to be on the same page with all five guys working together and as happens a lot we had breakdowns offensively and defensively in the five guys working together aspect. Again, these guys can make some plays, they go out there and fight, we will be alright.”

SAMUEL SALEMBERT

(On his adjustment to a new team): “It’s learning the team and that’s the hardest part. You’ve got to learn your team and try to get a feel for it. You have to know the plays … and that’s one of the things we’re going to be working on.

(On his ability to play well despite no practice time): Since I’ve been playing against this team (Orlando) for so long, I kind of know exactly what to do and I was able to really help out and contribute today.

(On his feelings toward his new team): “I like this group. I really like the guys. They really are mentally ready when they come to the game and really go after it. This year we really have to emphasize on defense and then we can get extra possessions so that is the priority. If we can do that, we will be okay.”

(On getting into the game early): The first couple minutes was a little weird but after, you pretty much get a feel and understanding of what they were wanting. They were trying to keep the plays as simple as possible for us and I was able to grasp some of it … and improvise when the plays broke down.

KYLE LOWRY

“I felt fine. I had a point where I felt a little bit tired but that is when you push through. Our emphasis is to play hard no matter what. We have a good bench and a good team so if I got tired then Goran can back me up and did a good job tonight.”

“It was one of those things that we are going to keep fighting and never going to stop fighting to win games. We are always going to play it to the end. They played well. Turkoglu made some big shots down the stretch. They made big plays.”

(On his own play): I just tried to play. I want to win games. Tonight we lost so it’s kind of difficult to say I played well because we lost. It’s not about me, it’s about the team.

(On Kevin Martin's off night): He (Kevin Martin) just missed some shots. He’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with him. He’ll be fine the next game, I promise you that. He didn’t get his usual free throw attempts and I think that’s where he could have gotten going but he missed some open shots and that’s just one of those things that happens. Quick turnaround, he didn’t get a chance to get a rhythm in the preseason, but he’ll be fine.

(On the difference with the new coaching staff): It’s a big difference. It’s more defensive mentality-wise. It’s not a big adjustment, there are just things we need to do execute and play a little bit tougher and harder.

COURTNEY LEE:

“It always is special (on playing in front of Orlando crowd). This is where the people that got me into the NBA…where I got drafted. It is always going to be a special feeling to come back and see the people in that organization, some of the people I played with, and the staff that I worked with. The fans have always been good. It is good to come back.”

“We will get back in the lab and watch film, but I think it is the fact they have the big guy down low that draws so much attention. They did a good job of surrounding him with shooters. You have to pick your poison and then tonight the three ball was falling when we were trying to take Dwight away.”

“We had good rotations. It was just the fact that they spaced the floor very well. They spaced it with shooters and you might get to them a half a second too late. Turkoglu hit some unbelievable threes today. JJ had a good game and was shooting it from the perimeter. Dwight was doing what he did down low.”

“I was very excited to get the season started. It was a long, long season. Once I got the news it was a good feeling but at the same time you have to get to work. There is a long way to go and you want to win games.”

Orlando Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy:

There were times tonight where I thought our movement was good and we got better shots. I think it was still a little sporadic but it was a big improvement over last night. But, there is also a difference in the quality of the defense.

I thought Turk really played well down the stretch when it counted; so did J.J. I thought Dwight was pretty good all night long. So those guys gave us a lift, and then I thought that Glen gave us a big lift there when we were fighting for the lead. I thought that was good. It’s tough, if you look, really, we had some guys bounce back and have better games tonight and then we had some others guys fall off. It’s tough right now. We haven’t had anybody in the first two games to have two good games. Hopefully, that consistency will come pretty quickly.

On Redick: You know what, he (Redick) played tonight. We didn’t really, we ran a couple plays for him but not a lot. I just think he plays with really good energy and he’s always moving; that’s always hard to guard. It’s a little bit of the same thing with Courtney [Lee] on their team. Constantly moving and making quick decisions with the ball – catch and attack, they don’t let the defense set – those kinds of guys are hard to guard. If a guy like J.J. is gonna hold the ball and jab step, jab step, try to isolate and break you down you can probably guard him. But when he’s making quick decisions – catch and shoot, catch and put it on the floor – he’s hard to guard. We need to get more of that with all of our guys, and hopefully we will as we go.

On Turkoglu: I think he (Turkoglu) is a making a good effort, and it’s like anybody – I don’t mean that as a criticism – I think everybody is sort of struggling to get their legs and their conditioning and so I don’t think anybody’s necessarily been consistent in their energy. I think he’s trying hard and he had good energy, particularly going down the stretch tonight. He got some big rebounds, too, so I thought he had a good night.

On the multiple guard line up: My thinking was, and their minutes actually crept up, but at least in the first half we tried to keep all those perimeter guys’ minutes a little bit realistic. Jason Richardson and Turk, I would have liked fewer minutes but they were both playing pretty well and I, obviously, wanted to get the win. I thought Chris made some good plays in the second half, aggressively attacking. I thought that was good to see.

On Turkoglu: There is no reason he (Turkoglu) can’t play like that. I think sometimes – and I talked to him about this as soon as the lockout was over – I think some guys just sort of decide to take on a different role: okay, now I’m a role player – and he’s not attacking as much. We had a lot of time in the lockout and I was reading different analyses of players, and I’ve got a lot of respect for John Hollinger’s evaluations of players. I think he does as good a job as about anybody I’ve seen and he analyzes the numbers. And I told Turk that one of the points that John made was that his efficiency last year – if you’re looking at field goal percentage, his assists, all of those things – there’s really not much difference from when we went to the Finals. The difference is he wasn’t trying to do as much; he was sort of passive. Part of it’s an energy thing but part of it is a mentality that you’re a great player, make plays. I thought he did that tonight. We need him to do that on a consistent basis. In particularly tonight it was huge because Jameer had a great game last night and really had trouble tonight, really couldn’t get his legs and was tired and the whole thing and so we needed somebody to sort of take over and make the plays and he did that. I think he’s capable of continuing to do that.

On Duhon: In training camp he’s (Duhon) been pretty good, and tonight in the second half he hit the three, he had two drives – one he made and the other pretty close to a foul anyway – I thought he was a lot more aggressive tonight. He made a couple of good plays, one to J.J. in the weak side corner. I thought in the second half we built a lead with him in there and I thought he was a big part of it. My thing with him is, and we’ll sit down and watch some film when we come back to practice on Wednesday, Chris is a great defender and he hasn’t been that in the two games. I think he’s been back on his heels a little bit and I think he can change that quickly just with a disposition because he is very capable of defending.

On Dwight: I thought Dwight was outstanding. I thought he played very hard and very well. We were just starting a two-week training camp and he played 75 minutes back-to-back nights so that is not easy. I thought he played really, really hard and I thought he was outstanding. I thought that he made a couple of nice plays; giving the ball to J.J. on the baseline cut was huge. Those were simple, little things but very, very important.

Jason Richardson

“It starts with Dwight. Once you get him going, they have to double-down on him and it opens up for everybody else and guys started hitting shots from the outside. J. J. had a big night with the ‘3,’ Turk shot the ball well, Ryan shot the ball. We have to play that well.”

“We just have to go out there and play. We’ve been out of basketball for awhile and all other 29 teams are going through it as well. We just have to go out there and just continue to work hard and continue to get better.”

“I think it’s just getting your timing back. That’s with everybody; you’re not used to playing five-on-five, or shooting the ball with someone in your face. I think guys on this team did a great job of staying in shape and it’s just getting our rhythm back.”

Chris Duhon

“I was just trying to get in the paint, take some more shots, actually worked a little bit. The defense started to draw a little more to me, created a couple more shots for J. J. and Glen. That unit was a very unselfish unit. We were making extra passes. Most of the time when you have great ball movement, great things happen.”

J. J. Redick

(On his technical) “I slammed the ball. But I was slamming the ball out of frustration on our team, it had nothing to do with a referee. And I think they gave me a break, they sensed that.”

“I think he (the ref) saw my face when I did it. I looked as innocent as a duck.”

“I think it was, across the board for our team tonight, we just played better offensively. There was more ball movement, more energy, and when that happens, it’s a little easier to get to into somewhat of a rhythm. Basically speaking, offensive players, when you’re in a rhythm, you shoot the ball better.”

“That was something we talked about before the game. Cutting harder, screening better, making a play, if not a play to move the ball and let somebody else make a play. Besides a little lull there in the second quarter, for the most part we were pretty good.”

Glen Davis

“It’s huge to be on a winning streak of one win. We have a lot to build on. We did some real good things, moved the ball, a lot of guys got real comfortable out there scoring. We scored more than the other team but we let them back into the game too much. On the defensive end, we have to challenge, I put it on myself. Whoever their post guy (is), defend him.”

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