Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 126, Houston Rockets 106

The Orlando Magic put together a brilliant gameplan and executed it to perfection to slow down the Houston Rockets and silence their high-powered duo.

Final
Orlando Magic
126
Houston Rockets
106

There were about 90 seconds left in the first half. The Orlando Magic clung to a 14-point lead and had to get to halftime. This time of the game would prove to be one of the most important for the team.

Allow James Harden or Russell Westbrook to get going and close the deficit and suddenly the Orlando Magic would face a game in the second half against a dangerous Houston Rockets team. Win the moment, and the Magic would have that much more cushion to play with for the second half.

A chance to put a stamp on this road trip and score a big win over one of the Western Conference’s better teams.

The Magic not only put a stamp on the game. They put their foot down.

Orlando went on an 11-0 run to take a 25-point lead at halftime. That included two possessions that completely characterized the effort from both teams.

Aaron Gordon got the ball late in the shot clock with little time or space. He calmly stepped back and drained the 3-pointe,r drawing a foul on DeMarre Carroll. That further frustrated the Rockets and they picked up a technical foul. It was a five-point possession.

On a scramble a few moments later, D.J. Augustin poked the ball free and dove over a Rockets player to squirt the ball forward to Michael Carter-Williams. He finished the basket.

Orlando was by far the more energetic and dialed in team. And it continued for much of the second half. The Rockets never got closer than 21 points until the final moment of the game as the Magic won 126-106 at Toyota Center on Sunday.

Orlando executed a flawless gameplan, switching and shadowing Harden everywhere on the court. Aaron Gordon got the call to defend Russell Westbrook for much of the night and kept him from getting into second gear and attacking the basket.

The team bottled up the lane and contested 3-point shots. They forced turnovers and they got to the lane. And, using their size over the Rockets’ center-less lineups, they attacked the offensive glass mercilessly.

Orlando had everything working and they zoomed past the Rockets as the more aggressive and crisper team. It was a revelatory performance for the Magic and one of their best wins of the season.

AARON GORDON

F, Orlando Magic

A-

Aaron Gordon seemed to take everything in this game personally. The Orlando Magic had a team approach to trying to slow down James Harden. Aaron Gordon had the individual assignment on Russell Westbrook. He seemed to relish the opportunity.

When the two were matched up, Gordon did a good job showing a ton of defensive discipline, keeping Westbrook in front of him. Cutting off the head of the snake like that had a trickle-down effect for the rest of the team. The Rockets were nowhere near efficient although the Magic executed really well to switch and challenge shots.

Where Gordon really proved valuable was on the glass. Whenever Nikola Vucevic was dragged away from the basket, Aaron Gordon was there to lock down the glass. He finished with 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks to highlight his overall activity. He added 19 points on 7-for-19 shooting. But was just as effective attacking the offensive glass and getting second-chance points. Gordon’s energy set the tone for the game.

D.J. AUGUSTIN

PG, Orlando Magic

A

The Orlando Magic showed early on they could score. They showed early on they could get stops if they could keep from fouling. But this is the Houston Rockets. They can catch fire in a hurry. The Magic still needed something more to feel safe and take control of the game. It turned out that was D.J. Augustin.

Somewhat maligned since his return from injury after a 15-game absence, Augustin has started to pick up his play and hit shots at a more consistent rate. That has helped to get the second unit moving again. In this game, it was the difference in the game.

Augustin scored 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He twisted and turned through the defense, drawing contact on several occasions and being an overall threat for the Magic from the outside. Augustin kept the team moving and was vital to the team expanding its lead in both halves. That is what Augustin is always meant to do, drive through the lane and force the defense to respond.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC

C, Orlando Magic

B+

This was always going to be a tough matchup for Nikola Vucevic. He struggles especially when he faces stretch-5s who bring him out to the perimeter. This team especially should have given him problems since theoretically without a center, they could attack him off the dribble. But Vucevic also should have been able to take advantage of the small players on the inside.

Give Vucevic credit. He still looked overmatched defensively at times. He needed help and the Magic did a good job covering for him. But Vucevic also was really good at staying disciplined and closing out. He got switched onto James Harden on several occasions and did a good job baiting Harden into contested threes. Even when he drove he recovered in time to contest the shot at least.

Vucevic was a monster on the glass as expected with 16 rebounds. Orlando also did a good job going inside to Vucevic and letting him work the post. All of it happening without the Magic disrupting their offense too much. The ball and players kept moving even as they got the ball inside. Vucevic finished with 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He still missed some bunnies that he needs to hit. But he was the catalyst for a lot of the team’s ball movement.

MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS

G, Orlando Magic

A

Michael Carter-Williams’ role is to mix things up. He is in there to instigate, poke and prod and try to make everyone on the opposing team uncomfortable when they play him. He can help change the energy of games with his defense. Coach Steve Clifford noted after the game that something Michael Carter-Williams is amazing at is avoiding screens while staying in the play.

Carter-Williams will never completely show up in a box score. Although he filled this one up — 16 points and three assists. He made half of his 10 shots, although there were a few bad 3-point misses in the process.

But Carter-Williams was everywhere defensively. He got his turn on both James Harden and Russell Westbrook and largely helped contain those two players. They were present in the game but never dominant. The Magic got a great defensive effort and Carter-Williams played his pest role perfectly.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

39-24, 6th West

D

With the roster the Houston Rockets are left with after their trades, they have no choice but to play small. There is some logic. Spread the floor with five shooters and give the lane all the space for James Harden and Russell Westbrook to attack. This is all meant to get the most of them.

It is clear that this is not doing so. The great weakness of this style is what happens if the team turns the ball over — 18 for 31 second-chance points. Or what happens if 3-point shots do not fall — 9 for 32 (28.1 percent). Or how do you corral boards — 23 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.

Everything the Rockets could not do in this game they did, giving the Magic every opportunity to win. Orlando made its shots. And Houston’s main guys still did fine — Westbrook had 24 points but also eight turnovers and Harden had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists. But neither shot efficiently and the Magic just made a living in the paint. They sure could use some size.

The Orlando Magic are now 29-35, one-half game behind the Brooklyn Nets for seventh and 5.5 games ahead of the Washington Wizards for eighth. The Magic’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 13 Magic wins or 13 Wizards losses.

Next: Orlando Magic have to trust youth to erase deficits

The Orlando Magic conclude their road trip Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.