Orlando Magic Grades: Houston Rockets 114, Orlando Magic 110

Wendell Carter struggled to defend Christian Wood in the Orlando Magic's second half struggle against the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Wendell Carter struggled to defend Christian Wood in the Orlando Magic's second half struggle against the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

114. 169. 110. 38. Final

By the time the Orlando Magic started making their desperate move to erase a 14-point deficit against the Houston Rockets, they probably knew it was somehow a bit too late.

It is never too late in the NBA. If there is one lesson that frenetic energy against a young team that is struggling can always close the deficit. That any player in the NBA can go on a scoring run and lift their team back into the game.

The Magic rode Dwayne Bacon back into a game they once led by 10 points and seemed more than capable of winning. They did all the right things to build a 10-point lead. Just as they seemingly did all the wrong things in losing focus yet again in the third quarter to give the lead away.

Bacon though helped bring the Magic back within three. Cole Anthony was a bundle of energy and determination trying to make sure the Magic did not lose. On one possession, he forced a turnover on a 1-on-4 fast break and sparked one of his own, ending up with R.J. Hampton finding Dwayne Bacon under the basket for a lay-in.

Orlando is used to working with a small margin for error. And eventually, that evaporates.

A three-point deficit became six as the defense collapsed on a Kelly Olynyk drive allowing Christian Wood to pop out for three. Time and again in the second half, Wood came free and forced his way to the basket.

The Rockets held off the Magic 114-110 in what has become an all-too-familiar refrain. The Magic showed promise for long stretches, had one bad stretch that put them deep in a hole and the rest of the game was spent trying to make up that ground.

The Orlando Magic again lost focus in the second half as the Houston Rockets came from behind and dominated the second half to hold on for a streak-busting win.

Orlando in that meantime gave up 51.2-percent shooting and 16-for-34 shooting from beyond the arc. Houston made 9 of 19 3-pointers in the second half, including 5 of 11 in the third quarter. The Magic’s defense seemed to falter and then completely break.

Again a repeated storyline for the team since the trade deadline. The lack of general progress is likely the biggest frustration for the team. As is the team’s inability to sustain any offensive push.

Young teams struggle with consistency and that remains abundantly clear for this team.

B. . PG. Orlando Magic. COLE ANTHONY

Cole Anthony is a fighter. That much he should get credit for. That was what the Orlando Magic wanted when they drafted him. And he proved that knack in this game. He was constantly a pest defensively, getting a few steals and getting the ball loose just by applying a little pressure. When Kevin Porter fouled out and the Houston Rockets lost a clear ballhandler, he seemed to go on the attack. He was also never afraid to drive the lane and finish at the rim with 19 points.

But Anthony was also a big part of why the Magic struggled in the third quarter. He finished the game with four turnovers in the game. He struggled to keep the team organized and on pace offensively. That might be normal for a rookie. But he has also had plenty of missed shots, making only 5 of 14 shots. Anthony had nine assists, helping move the ball well. But there is more to it than just his stats.

Orlando Magic. DWAYNE BACON. A. . G/F

Why does Steve Clifford still want veterans in his lineup? Look no further than the way Dwayne Bacon calmly led the Orlando Magic back into the game. Bacon is not always the picture of efficiency, but his ability to force his way to the basket can be valuable when the team is stuck. Against this defense, Bacon was a constant in the paint and constantly putting pressure on the Houston Rockets.

He scored 22 points on 7-or-14 shooting. He 11 on 5-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter alone. In a game that seemed to be drifting toward a blowout loss, Bacon was a big part of why the Magic were able to climb back into the game and give themselves a chance to win. That is what a veteran does, they provide some stability. The Magic desperately needed it.

B-. . C. Orlando Magic. WENDELL CARTER

There is a lot to be excited about when it comes to Wendell Carter. His defense and his presence in the paint have brought a lot of hope for the team’s defensive future. Carter is a strong defender. But not one without weaknesses. And in the second half, Christian Wood took advantage of these weaknesses. He did a good job pushing Carter off his spot and attacking the Orlando Magic’s switching in the second half. Carter struggled to track Wood at the 3-point line.

Meanwhile, Carter went invisible on the offensive end. He scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Getting Carter confident has been a good thing to start his time with the Magic. Now they need him to be more assertive and aggressive. Orlando built its second-quarter lead thanks to Carter’s energetic play in the paint. That was noticeably missing in the second half.

B+. . C. Orlando Magic. MOHAMED BAMBA

Mohamed Bamba returned after a two-game absence with a sore right hip. He looked relatively no worse for the wear. But quietly Bamba put in a solid performance. He did not seem to over-exert himself or do anything outstanding. But that was more than enough. He played within himself offensively especially and made good decisions in addition to making his shots.

His defense still needs some work and he is still not always in the right spots or quick enough to be the backline defender the Magic need. Still, there is no denying the numbers. He has consistently produced now that his pathway to minutes is clear. He scored 11 points to go with nine rebounds and fought well on the glass to get those rebounds. A good sign for his development.

HOUSTON ROCKETS. A-. . 15-42. 14th West

The Houston Rockets seem to know who they are. They play quirky lineups with shooters and five players around the perimeter. They are happy to take threes and try to find ways to out-scheme teams that play a more traditional style. They trust Christian Wood and his performance to set everything up for them. They can catch teams by surprise, but they also can struggle. Their defense has continued to be a struggle and even the Orlando Magic found some holes to exploit.

The Rockets though needed to break this five-game losing streak. They needed to feel some confidence that what they were doing was putting them on the right course. This certainly did. The Rockets played with a ton of energy and found their groove enough to pull out the win.

Next. R.J. Hampton then and now. dark

The Magic fall to 18-39, 14th in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Toronto Raptors by 5.5 games for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament.

The Orlando Magic will be eliminated from receiving homecourt advantage in the first round of the Playoffs with any combination of three losses or three Atlanta Hawks or three Boston Celtics wins. They will be eliminated from contention for the Play-In Tournament with any combination of nine more losses or nine more Raptors wins.

The Orlando Magic will be eliminated from receiving the top odds in the NBA Draft Lottery with any combination of 15 wins or 15 Detroit Pistons losses.

The Magic return to action Tuesday in Atlanta against the Hawks.