As it turns out, the people of Orlando don’t seem to like Dwight Howard very much. He may feel that time heals all wounds, but if that’s the case then Orlando Florida needs at least another year for that black eye to heal up. The boos erupted every time he touched the ball, and for a while his old team got the better of him. The Magic built up a 14 point lead in the second quarter and looked like they believed they could steal a win from another top playoff team.
Unfortunately for them, their prodigal son came back in the third quarter with a surprise of his own. Chandler Parsons, native of the Orlando metro area, put his foot on the gas and helped the Rockets turn that deficit into a lead which eventually ballooned out of Orlando’s control. It wasn’t a pretty game, and it wasn’t a win Houston can hang their hat on, but it was a win nonetheless. With a pile of brutal teams waiting for the next weeks and a half, the Rockets have to be happy to come away with any wins they can.
Chandler Parsons may have blitzed the Magic in the third quarter, but it was James Harden who took over the game. He looked like the superstar Houston hoped for, hitting 11 of his 19 shots for a game-high 31 points. He didn’t miss a single free throw, dished 6 assists and had 3 turnovers, a number which is decent considering his usual rate and the sheer number of giveaways for the team. Harden and the Rockets in general turned it on in the second half, and that’s exactly what they have to do if they want to win the games they’re supposed to.
The Rockets wouldn’t have had to come out big in the second half, however, if they hadn’t allowed the first half to get out of control. Given the intense game the previous night and the travel to Orlando, given the Magic’s record, it’s not strange for Houston to looks disinterested and slow to start out. Earlier in this season, the Rockets rolled over in similar games and declined to try. Playing down to lesser opponents had been an ongoing issue, and for half the game it showed back up. Thankfully, the Rockets seem to have done some maturing over the winter, and they picked up their hustle and grit to finish off the game.
The Magic played a physical game, whether they intended to or not, and several Houston body parts felt the brunt. Terrence Jones keeled over after getting his groin keelhauled on a drive to the basket, but was fine. Patrick Beverley had to get a noseful of cotton to stanch the flow of blood after getting elbowed in the face. Jeremy Lin got Tackled by Kyle O’Quinn, and Donatas Motiejunas nearly got knocked out by a blow to the jaw. This continues to be a sticking point for the Rockets, who seem to have trouble dealing with physical play. Whether it was a factor of young players being out of control or a concerted effort, Houston managed to power through and take back the lead.
If Harden gets the game ball, Jeremy Lin gets the opposite. Is the sweat mop the opposite of the game ball? That’s what Lin gets for his 1-4 shooting night. Jordan Hamilton also went 1-4, but he contributed at least a little bit with 4 rebounds, a steal and a block to go with his acceptable defense and high hustle. Lin is a much larger part of the team’s plans, and as such he simply has to get more active on both sides of the ball. 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 turnovers just aren’t good enough peripheral stats, even given that he only played 15 minutes. Lin looks timid and unsure for some reason, and he needs to get his groove back if the Rockets hope to make the conference finals.
That, after all, is what’s on the table. The Rockets now have to prove that not only are they in the conversation at this point, but that they’re near the top of the list. Beating the Heat was a statement, and each successive game has to be an exclamation point to go with it, now. Losing to the Magic simply wasn’t an option, even though four months ago it would have been. It wasn’t a pretty game, or a good game, or even a game to take much pride in, but it was a win. When winning is all that matters, all that mattered about that game was that it was a win.