The next time the Magic take the floor at Amway Center, the games will count (actually, it will be for an open practice Monday at 7 p.m.). There won't be time to learn anymore or time to make mistakes. Teaching moments will come with the penalty of losses and deep deficits.
Play time is over. The regular season is just a week away.
The Magic have plenty to work on before then. Orlando's defense, which struggled throughout the preseason, failed to slow down Houston. The Magic kept pace for the first quarter before falling behind by 15 points in the second quarter. Then Orlando let its starters take the second half off. The team got its work in through 24 minutes.
Houston won the game 108-92, opening up a lead that surpassed 25 points at one point in the third quarter. That part did not matter. What mattered is that no one got hurt — DeQuan Jones was taken out after an awkward bump given by the Rockets on the way to a breakaway dunk — and Orlando continued to establish a habit of playing hard.
All the Magic starters except Arron Afflalo and Hedo Turkoglu played at least 20 of the 24 first-half minutes. They had their offense going, shooting better than 50 percent in the first quarter and keeping pace with Houston. The Rockets offense was that much better with quick ball movement and great shooting.
The Rockets all night seemed able to break down the first defender and force the Magic to scramble and rotate quickly. All preseason, Orlando struggled to get there in time with Houston whipping the ball around quickly.
Jeremy Lin broke out of his shooting slump to drain three of his four 3-pointers and score 13 points and added five assists in 23 minutes. Carlos Delfino helped Houston gain breathing room in the second quarter with his 3-point shooting. He hit three of his four 3-point attempts and he scored 11 points in just more than 11 minutes.
Houston shot 51.2 percent for the game and were rarely shooting worse than 50 percent for the game. Orlando knows it has to improve its defense — in transition and otherwise — when the games start counting.
Orlando though did plenty right, especially early in the game. Orlando was hitting its shots and getting into a good rhythm offensively. Nikola Vucevic was working extremely hard on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds and five offensive rebounds in his limited minutes.
In the end though, none of Orlando's starters shot the ball particularly well — Glen Davis led the starter with 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting — and that doomed the team in the second quarter. It took the Magic four minutes to record their first points in that second quarter and that gave the Rockets the ability to pull away and establish a lead.
What became clear is that when the Magic are not moving the ball and getting cuts to get open this offense is really going to struggle. The Magic had 18 assists on 38 field goals this evening, but the starters had only seven with four coming from Jameer Nelson. That should be a good lesson for this team.
The second half was all about the bench players and the roster hopefuls for the Magic.
DeQuan Jones continued to make a case to make this roster, scoring 16 points on 8-for-16 field goals and working extremely hard to get out on the break and make his impact. E'Twaun Moore had a team-high 18 points on 7 for 12 shooting. And Kyle O'Quinn had five assists and 10 rebounds, providing a nice presence defensively inside.
Ish Smith also made his preseason debut, displaying the speed that made him such a fan favorite last year and seemingly instantly helping Orlando spark a run and make things interesting for a while. Smith finished with six points and his statement to the fans for playing time.
The result of this game though clearly did not matter. Orlando finished its preseason with the task clearly laid in front of them. It will not be easy. But all they can do is play the games.