Magic Beat Rockets in Summer League Action Behind Stifling Defense

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

LAS VEGAS - While a bummer we didn’t get to see Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs square off as originally planned, there was still plenty to keep our eyes on during Sunday’s NBA Summer League contest between the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Each side featured a few recent first round draft selections even with Green and Suggs, the respective No. 2 and No. 5 picks in last month’s draft, out due to minor injuries. For the Magic, Cole Anthony, chosen 15th a year ago, and Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick this year, saw extensive playing time and helped Orlando roll to an 89-76 victory.

The 6-foot-3, 191-pound Anthony had his best performance of the competition thus far with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Wagner, meanwhile, had a few strong finishes inside and drilled his one 3-point attempt as part of his 13-point night.

It was on the defensive end though where they and their teammates made the biggest impact. The Rockets shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range, largely because of the Magic’s defensive tenacity, communication, and execution.

“From our practice yesterday, we came here and we were like let’s just lock in defensively. Let’s do what we can on the defensive end and the offense is going to take care of itself,” Anthony said.

Jamahl Mosley, on the bench for Orlando’s first three games, took in Sunday’s action from the stands while sitting next to Markelle Fultz, one of two Magic players attending the game. The other was Mo Bamba, who practiced with the Magic’s summer league squad during the team’s mini training camp.

At the helm for Orlando instead was Jesse Mermuys, recently named one of Mosley’s assistant coaches. It was in 2008 when Mermuys got his first NBA coaching gig. It was with the Nuggets in Denver where he worked side by side with Mosley, also an assistant under George Karl at the time.

Other coaches he has worked under in the NBA include Kevin McHale with the Rockets, Dwane Casey with the Toronto Raptors, and Luke Walton with the L.A. Lakers and Sacramento Kings.

Even from his seat, Mosley noticed how much more in sync the team looked compared to the prior few games.

“They were really good defensively. We were active. We turned them over twenty-five times for thirty-one points,” he said. “I think just our ability (to use our) active hands, we showed a wall in transition trying to take away easy baskets. But the activity, communication and them flying around for one another was really good. They were tied together.”

A star in the Korean Basketball League with Wonju DB Promy last season, Yante Maten played a big role in the win. The 25-year-old originally from Pontiac, Michigan led Orlando with 18 points and nine rebounds and spurred a run that allowed the Magic to create some separation in the second half.

Houston was led by Josh Christopher, one of their four 2021 first round draft picks. Selected 24th overall, Christopher, a crafty scorer, tallied 22 points, although it was on an inefficient 7-for-19 shooting from the field. Alperen Sengun, the 16th pick known for his low-post finesse and nifty footwork on drives, registered 13 points and 10 rebounds and Usman Garuba, chosen 23rd, did what he does best and that’s play smothering defense.

The Magic outscored the Rockets in the first, third and fourth quarters. Both teams scored 26 in the second period.

To allocate more minutes to guys who didn't get many minutes in the first three games, Orlando opted to hold R.J. Hampton out.

With one game left, which will take place on Monday at 8 p.m. against the Detroit Pistons, expect to see even more of the reserves get extra playing time to showcase their skills.

“I think it’s really an opportunity for these guys that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes to play,” Mosley said. “To continue with the defensive effort. Being tough, being talkative and being tied together. I think we continue with that. Continue the foundation of what we’ve done. Giving opportunities to guys that may not have played major minutes. Giving them an opportunity to show what they can do.”