The Orlando Magic never got themselves going and ran into a buzzsaw of the Houston Rockets offense as they fell behind and never recovered.
Pick your moment of futility against the Houston Rockets.
The Orlando Magic started the game off well enough with an early lead, but then quickly saw things get bad. And then even worse.
The Magic gave up a 13-0 run midway through the first quarter that gave the lead away and they never came close to seeing it again.
Was it the barrage of 3-pointers the Rockets poured on the Magic? Was it the free lobs the Magic gave up to Christian Wood or the easy passes to the perimeter that James Harden whipped to the corner to P.J. Tucker or Ben McLemore or really anyone wearing a Rockets jersey?
Was it the hapless turnovers as the Magic tried to dig themselves out of the deepening hole? Or how about the layups and short jumpers their best players missed as the team tried to get back into the game?
Yes. The answer to it was yes.
Everything that could go wrong for the short-handed Magic did go wrong in an 132-90 loss to the Rockets on Friday at Toyota Center.
The combination of missing Aaron Gordon (load management for his hamstring injury), Evan Fournier (back spasms) and Markelle Fultz (torn ACL) gutted the Magic’s depth, forcing them to play with 10 active players. But the team still had plenty to compete.
Orlando though missed shots early in the game, even good ones, and their confidence slipped quickly. The Rockets quickly realized the Magic were trying to play through Nikola Vucevic and surrounded and pressured him into turnovers and there were not the shooters to surround him and space the floor.
Houston meanwhile attacked off any miss and turnover and fired away from deep. And the Rockets just would not miss.
Houston had 11 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 22 for the game. The Rockets made 46.8-percent of the 3-pointers for the game. Orlando just had no way to compete or keep up.
The Magic had a bad night. And with the odd lineups and group the team had out there, that was understandable.
But the team still had largely a lack of attention to detail. Even the basic things the Magic are usually very good at, they struggled to do consistently. And the Rockets pounded them for it. They took over and never looked back.
The Magic had no answers and things only got worse.
The Orlando Magic were already asking a lot of Cole Anthony entering this game. The young guard was preparing to make his first start in Markelle Fultz’s stead and was still playing catchup after not having the usual trappings of the preseason. Then the team took away two starters with injury management on a roster that is already pretty depleted. It was not a situation set up for success for the young guard.
Still, this is a results-driven business. And if the Magic are going to find success the rest of this season, they will need Cole Anthony to grow up quickly. And certainly play better than he did in his starting debut.
The Houston Rockets did a good job pressuring him and inviting him into traps. He was unable to get the offense moving and committed four turnovers in 17 minutes. Anthony still ended up with 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting. But eight of those on 4-for-7 shooting came in the fourth quarter with the team already down by 30.
Being down so many players and running a rookie point guard making his first start of the season put a lot of pressure on Nikola Vucevic’s shoulders to carry the team and be its heartbeat throughout the game. The Orlando Magic certainly played like it going through him in the low- and mid-post throughout the game. But the Houston Rockets sat on that and made life hard for Vucevic.
Still, in the moments when Vucevic was able to get his shot off, he did not produce at the level necessary to keep this team afloat. Everything for this team right now is going to branch off Vucevic and his play needs to remain efficient and strong to give the team a chance to win. Especially when the group is this depleted.
Simply put, Vucevic’s 22-point, 12-rebound effort looks good on a box score. But shooting 8 for 19 is not going to be good enough. While Vucevic tried to get others involved, they were missing shots. And Vucevic needed to be looking to score. He also has to be better defensively where he lost contact with Christian Wood on several lobs. A disappointing overall effort.
The blowout loss and the short-handed roster got Mohamed Bamba his first extended minutes of the season. He played meaningful minutes in the second quarter before the game got too out of hand and then played almost the entire fourth quarter, tallying 12 points and seven rebounds on 5-for-9 shooting.
His second-quarter stint was nothing too special, which might be both good and bad. Mohamed Bamba was definitely a bit late on some rotations and making reads. But that could be chalked up to being out for so long. He definitely needs to get his legs back under him after missing so much time from 5-on-5 action.
The fourth quarter was a big showing for him. He got comfortable as the game went on and once he hit his first jumper (after a really bad air ball, at that), the confidence was flowing for him. He proved to be active throughout much of the game. Aside from going for blocks a bit too much, Bamba seemed to settle down which is a good sign of his progress.
Khem Birch hit his first 3-pointer of his career, affirming that he has indeed worked on that shot. That will be about the only positive to say about him or this team. Khem Birch was active and able to get some of his solid rebounds and work around the basket for 11 points and five rebounds. But he missed a lot of shots he needs to make. At least he was aggressive chasing them.
Birch though was quick to admit that he did not set a good example for the young team that the Magic had to put out there Friday night. He said he did not put in the effort he usually does for his teammates and that had a trickle-down effect for everyone.
Birch is still having a great season. But the attention to detail from everyone was off throughout the game.
What didn’t the Houston Rockets do well? After struggling a bit to start the game, the Houston Rockets simply toyed with the Orlando Magic for the rest of the game. The Magic had no answer and no resistance to what the Rockets were doing throughout the rest of the game.
Houston shot 56.0-percent overall for the game. The team made 22 of 47 3-pointers (46.8-percent). At halftime, the Magic had only one more field goal than the Rockets had 3-pointers. Their defense pressured and forced the Magic into tough shots.
Houston did not even need James Harden at full force (15 points, 13 assists, 6-for-13 shooting). They had him just lobbing the ball to Christian Wood (22 points, 15 rebounds) or dishing it to P.J. Tucker (15 points, 5-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers) or Ben McLemore (15 points on 5-for-5 shooting from deep). This was their night.
The Magic are now 6-3 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They get right back to it Saturday night against the Dallas Mavericks.