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Young players tend to focus more on their offensive games before learning the value of defense in winning. The Magic are a team of young players and so that makes sense.
Against the up-and-down Rockets team, it is easy to get drawn into that game. And for much of the first half, Orlando kept pace with Houston. The Magic hoisted 3-pointers at a rate well above their pay grade and ran the game at a much quicker pace. It worked for the most part as the Magic trailed the star-laden Rockets by eight points at halftime.
Orlando's offense cannot play like that for very long. Even in a preseason game.
The defense struggled in the third quarter against Houston's second unit and Houston held a fourth-quarter Orlando run for a 108-104 win at Toyota Center on Wednesday.
The Magic in the first half showed many of the things that have been encouraging about this team and discouraging about this team throughout the preseason.
Orlando's offense was relatively smooth throughout the game. The ball was whipping around the perimeter well and moving inside out from Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson (who became the early focus of the offense even with Dwight Howard in the paint). Orlando was making jump shots.
The Magic are probably not going to score 53 points in a half many times this season. They have now done that twice in the preseason.
Vucevic was exceptional on both ends of the floor. He scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds. More importantly, he held his own against Dwight Howard in the paint, forcing him to rush his way through his post moves and standing tall against him. Vucevic had a standing block of Howard's first attempt on the first possession of the game. Howard scored eight points and made only two of his eight field goal attempts.
Defensively, that was about as positive as you could get in that first half.
The Magic continued to struggled with giving up free throws — the Rockets attempted 27 free throws — and struggled to get out to the perimeter to defend the 3-point line. Houston made 15 of 36 3-point attempts and sucked Orlando into a 3-point shooting contest — Orlando made 6 of 27. Dwight Howard's presence certainly had something to do with it, but Orlando was not a great rotating defensive team last year either.
Add on some timely fast break opportunities and the Rockets were running their type of game and forcing the Magic to follow suit. And eventually Orlando's offense would run out.
The Rockets shot only 41.7 percent from the floor. So the Magic did some good things defensively. But Houston hit 3-pointers at a solid rate and got to the foul line, counteracting that poor field goal percentage.
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY
James Harden and Patrick Beverley were the offensive catalysts for the Rockets scoring 21 and 13 points each. Orlando had trouble keeping them out of the lane.
Offensively, the Magic got great performances from Andrew Nicholson and E'Twaun Moore. Nicholson scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He made 3 of his 4 3-point attempts, showing off the corner 3-pointer he had worked on all summer. Moore led the fourth quarter charge with 17 points. He likely wants to take back a go-ahead 3-point attempt which missed badly off the backboard with about four seconds left.
Victor Oladipo had his first poor game of the preseason. He was great when he got to the basket, but his jumper was consistently short. Oladipo scored nine points on 3-for-12 shooting. It was a big learning moment for Oladipo.
This game continues a major learning for this young team as they continue to come together.
Offensively, the Magic seem to have a lot of weapons and a lot of potential when they are dialed in. There is a more dynamic attack with more guys who can get into the paint and potentially create for others. Jump shooting will still be a problem.
Defensively, though, the Magic continue to need some work. They need to quit fouling and do a better job keeping players in front of them. The centers are taking a lot of fouls because the guards are struggling to defend — Solomon Jones fouled out and Vucevic had five fouls. That will help set the defense elsewhere too.
The Magic are going to be going through the growing pains once again. It will probably take a bit longer than the next four preseason games for this team to begin to come together and really play at a solid level.