Dwight Howard said before Wednesday’s game he has forgiven those he needed to forgive after his departure from Orlando. He said he hoped one day Magic fans would be able to forgive him and everyone can move on. He certainly noticed, as others did, that the vitriol and emotion had worn off somewhat as he made his second trip to Amway Center as a visiting player.
Sure there were still booing every time he touched the ball. And, yes, the loudest cheer of the night came when Kyle O’Quinn met Howard at the top of his jump and blocked his shot before he could even release it. The schadenfreude was definitely palpable.
This was still a game though, and it was still another day at the office for a team like the Rockets, withstanding the plucky Magic without two starters in Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo.
Houston never forgot that. And while Orlando kept things as tight as the team could, Houston had the answers and the control of the game after eliminating a double-digit deficit at halftime and pulling away on the strength of a 7-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter.
The Rockets had too much James Harden and, yes, too much Dwight Howard in a 101-89 win over the Magic at Amway Center on Wednesday — in front of a non-sellout crowd of 16,012.
Harden scored 31 points on 11-for-19 shooting, recording 25 in the second half after the Magic did a good job keeping him to the perimeter. He helped turn missed shots and turnovers into fast break opportunities. And Harden is just so difficult and crafty in the open floor.
Howard too played big in the second half, recording 12 of his 19 points in the second half and grabbing eight of his 13 rebounds.
“It’s very tough [to defend those two],” Jacque Vaughn said. “I think overall we did a good job especially in the first half. A lot of times defensively your offense can help you out. In the third quarter, we weren’t efficient with teh basketball offensively and that hurt us defensively.”
Houston locked everything down and the Magic could find no answers on either end as their 48-41 lead at halftime evaporated behind a 34-17 third quarter. Orlando had 14 field goals in a blistering 32-point first quarter, but just 14 fields goals and 33 points in the second and third quarters.
Vaughn said the Magic kept things very simple in the first quarter. They moved the ball and reacted and played quickly. More tellingly, the Magic turned 22 Rockets turnovers into 20 points, forcing seven in the first quarter for 10 points. Houston’s miscues fed Orlando’s offense and the team had the energy to take advantage of them.
That energy and effort never quite disappeared, but Orlando lost the efficiency to keep up with the high-powered Rockets squad.
Houston found its bearings and forced Orlando into turnover problems of its own — 17 for the game and eight in the third quarter alone. Those turnovers equaled more offensive opportunities for the Rockets. And with the weapons Houston has, it was only a matter of time before the floodgates began to open.
“I thought our defensive intensity was pretty good in the first half,” Arron Afflalo said. “We got some good looks at the rim, a lot of layups and dunks and things of that nature. Our defensive intensity kind of slipped coming out of the half and we never really regained it.”
That turnaround was critical to the game, even with all of Orlando’s fight and determination. The Magic were never blown out in this one, but their control of the game slipped further and further away in the second half.
There were plenty of solid performances for the Magic even with the Rockets slowly building their lead and taking control. Afflalo returned from a five-game absence to score 18 points on 8-for-16 shooting. Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic each had 15 points. E’Twaun Moore had eight off the bench. And Kyle O’Quinn added eight points and eight rebounds.
O’Quinn and Harris though struggled from the floor going a combined 7 for 25 from the floor as they found it difficult to crack Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik on the inside.
Orlando kept the game within striking distance. The team just could not make that final strike. It could not get the gap down to signle digits after that O’Quinn block that sent Amway Center into a tizzy. There were too many missed shots and no way to stop Harden in the end.
For Houston and Howard, it was business as usual.