Orlando Magic at Houston Rockets: Game Preview

James Ennis III and James Harden
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic head out on their second road trip of the season in search of their third straight victory when they visit the Houston Rockets on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Under normal circumstances, the Magic would be extremely upbeat about jumping out to a 6-2 start to the season and possessing the league’s second-best record.

However, all of that changed on Wednesday when point guard Markelle Fultz, one of the franchise’s key young pieces, went down with a torn ACL in his left knee during the first quarter of Orlando’s home game against Cleveland.

The challenge now for the Magic will be turning the page, however hard that may be, and refocusing on the task at hand as the Rockets, or any other NBA team for that matter, will not be sympathetic to their circumstances once the ball tips off on Friday night.

“It’s disappointing, it’s hard to see a friend go down, but there’s no time to feel sorry,” Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier explained. “Injuries happen every year for every team, that’s just the business we’re in. You have to keep moving forward and you have to keep getting better.”

As a result of the injury, starting point guard duties will be thrust upon the plate of rookie Cole Anthony.

The University of North Carolina alum has proven to be a quick learner, which has been extremely valuable in a season with no summer league, a truncated training camp, shortened preseason and jampacked regular season schedule. He’ll now face another challenge, taking on the responsibility of leading an NBA team just nine games into his professional career.

“I feel like I’m very well prepared,” said Anthony, who’s averaging 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. “(Improved shooting) might help, but in terms of all the facets, defense, passing, rebounding, all that, just leading, I’m very well prepared.”

KEY STAT: The Magic have opened an NBA season with a 6-2 start six times in franchise history. With a victory against Houston, Orlando would have a chance to tie the team’s all-time best start to a season after nine games. Only four other times in the organization’s history has it tipped off a campaign 7-2 (1994-95, 1995-96, 1998-99, 2007-08).

INJURY UPDATE: The Magic hope to have Fournier (back spasms) in their starting lineup tonight against the Rockets. Although he’s made steady progress and practiced with the team on Thursday, he’s still feeling some lingering effects of the injury.

“I’ve been better to be honest,” Fournier said. “It’s kind of frustrating. I did go through practice. We didn’t do a whole lot though. It was mostly shooting and five-on-o, so I did go through practice, (but) I’m not sure (if I’ll be able to play). That flight is not going to help me either, so we’ll see.”

Aaron Gordon will sit out tonight's matchup with left hamstring injury management. He's expected to play in the team's contest against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot), Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out.

For Houston, Chris Clemons (right achilles surgery) and Danuel House Jr. (back spasms) are listed as out, while Christian Wood (left knee soreness) is listed as questionable.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You have to understand, Cole’s last game in college was in March – maybe like February. The guy didn’t go through summer league, he didn’t go through NBA workouts, short training camp, it’s hard. Just being out there without knowing what NBA basketball is. So, like I said, he’s got NBA talent, it’s obvious. He just needs time to get acclimated to what the NBA is. (Learn) how he’s going to get his looks. He plays point guard, that’s probably the hardest position to play. So, he has so much to take in that I think he’s playing and thinking at the same time. Once he gets comfortable, he’s going to be able to do more and more.” Fournier on Anthony.

RIVALS REPORT: The Rockets 2-4 record is certainly not indicative of the danger that this team presents.

Perennial MVP candidate James Harden can singlehandedly transform any game into a one-man scoring fest and has plenty of weapons around him that can assist in putting up points in hurry.

“It will be a great challenge,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford explained. “They’re a talented team. I’m biased obviously, but (head coach) Stephen Silas is doing a great job with them.”

Among the other Rockets that will present a challenge tonight are Wood, John Wall and Eric Gordon.

Wood, who was acquired this offseason in a sign-and-trade with the Detroit Pistons, is averaging 23.6 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game and is the only player in the league averaging at least 20.0 pts, 10.0 rebs, and 2.0 blks per game this season.

Wall, who was acquired along with a future first round pick via trade from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Russell Westbrook, is averaging 23.0 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

“John Wall looks good, really good actually,” Clifford explained. “He’s looked like he’s hit it running. He’s still open-court speed, getting to the basket, terrific passer off the dribble, great competitor."

Gordon, who’s always a threat from beyond the arc, has scored 20-plus points in three straight games for Houston.

“They have a new system, they have a new coach, they have Wall, (DeMarcus) Cousins, Christian Wood, (and) they’ve obviously got James Harden,” Fournier said. “They have a lot of firepower. They can do a lot of things on the floor. It’s going to be a tough matchup, but if we do the right things defensively, I think we can really give them a problem. Obviously, we’re going to have to be super disciplined with fouling because James and John can really get to the free throw line.”


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