Postgame Report: Magic vs. Rockets

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

HOUSTON - James Harden is the reigning league MVP and frontrunner for the award this season for good reason. As he’s done repeatedly throughout this truly amazing stretch – now 23 straight games with over 30 points – Harden almost single-handedly crushed another team’s hopes of pulling out a win against his Rockets.

Although the Magic played to their strengths by dominating on the glass and working the ball into the paint for most of the night, it wasn’t enough to prevent Harden, now a seven-time NBA All-Star, from stealing the show in the waning moments.

The NBA’s leading scorer, who finished with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, drilled a pair of clutch shots – the first a go-ahead three with 1:14 left and the other a step-back jumper shortly after to seal Houston’s 103-98 win.

Evan Fournier, Harden’s primary defender most of the night, did everything he could to get him out of his rhythm. Harden scored just two points in the third quarter and missed four of his six prior shots before knocking down those pressure-packed two.

“I thought Evan did a great job, he really did and I’m super proud of him and how he played and how he defended James,” said teammate Aaron Gordon, who posted 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. “He has the ball all game long so he stays in rhythm and then down the stretch it’s one-on-one iso and he made good plays.”

The advantage the Magic had against a smaller, perimeter-oriented opponent didn’t go to waste, though. Orlando out-rebounded Houston 56-39, with 18 of those boards coming on the offensive glass.

Their size and length helped them jump out to a 16-point lead in the first half, when Nikola Vucevic scored 17 of his 19 points and Fournier poured in 12 of his 18.

The Rockets’ defensive adjustments in the second half were a major factor, though. Their switching took away a lot of what the Magic did so well early on, causing them to shoot just 32.6 percent after halftime and 25 percent in the final 12 minutes.

The Magic have struggled down the stretch in recent games. Like Sunday’s contest, they had leads late in recent losses to Detroit and Brooklyn (twice), and they weren’t able to take advantage of a furious second-half rally against Washington in their last home game.

The fact that they’ve been so competitive in each of these games should give the Magic some confidence, however.

“It’s a lot of games this year that I feel like we handed away,” Gordon said. “We have a couple more home games coming up so we have to take care of the crib and see if we can get on a winning streak.”

Orlando should also feel good about the fact that the 103 points Houston scored was its second lowest total in its last 11 games.