The Orlando Magic look to have a lot to look forward to in years to come, but they are very much playing for the future right now. For a team that can reasonably be accused of playing down to the level of their opposition at times, this was a chance for the Rockets to show that they are capable of efficiently dispatching inferior opponents. It wasn’t a completely serene process, but in the end they came away with a comfortable win. It’s great that occasionally everything can go according to plan!
- The Rockets came out slow, bringing back uncomfortable memories of the two recent losses against Phoenix and Utah. McHale was forced to call a timeout after they slipped to a 9-2 hole early on, but this time the team was able to snap out of their funk with a vengeance. They launched a barrage of threes and it seemed as though all of them went in. A 17-0 run was the result and helped turn the deficit to a 28-18 lead after the first quarter. Obviously this isn’t the sort of thing you want to rely on happening night-in night-out, but it is an expected part of the Rockets’ strategy that every now and then they will get a surge like this and it will get them out of a jam.
- The Rockets eventually were able to build a lead and slowly stretch it out, and it was a progression that felt effortless and inevitable. The Rockets were consistently attacking the rim, and the Magic seemed to have no answer but to foul repeatedly. At the other end the Magic were being forced to settle for outside shots and none of them were dropping. The superior athleticism of Jones and Howard was overpowering the wide-bodies of Davis and Maxiell and the superior outside shooting of Harden, Parsons and Beverley was burying the Magic shooters’ attempts to respond from beyond the arc.
- For all that they looked like they were in command of the game, the Rockets let the Magic back into it in the fourth quarter as they cut the lead to 10 on the back of Jameer Nelson heating up from beyond the arc. This necessitated keeping the starters in for most of the fourth quarter in what would ideally have been garbage time. Normally this would be a cause for concern, but with some time off before their next game McHale had the luxury of being able to leave them out there without having to worry too much about minutes limitations.
- Terrence Jones (16 points, 13 boards, 5 blocks) was once again a live wire (when isn’t he these days?). He had some spectacular rejections, and continues to show the ability to make plays off the dribble that will hopefully make him a terror to guard for years to come. You should see at least one nice play of his on the top 10 tonight. During the third quarter he rose up to block a Glen Davis jumper, then ran the court. Harden was able to feed him the ball through the legs of Oladipo for the slam. Very pretty!
- The Magic did a great job of defending the pick-and-roll tonight. On most nights, when Howard rolls to the lane the lob is always open. But you could tell that Jacque Vaughn has done an excellent job of drilling his young team against this play. Every time the Rockets ran the play the help defender was there on time if not early to disrupt the lob. It takes great timing and athleticism to intercept that pass, so I was really impressed by how consistently they were able to defend it. This is a defensive blueprint that other teams will certainly be looking at later in the year, so the Rockets are going to have to start working on a counter.
- Motiejunas had an interesting battle with Glen Davis in the second quarter. Initially it looked like D-Mo didn’t have the body mass to deal with Davis, picking up two quick fouls. But McHale persisted with him and the big Lithuanian’s play picked up later on in his stint. There was one particularly noteworthy stretch in which he altered three consecutive shots at the rim, causing the Magic to miss them all. Still, overall it was not the sort of performance that demands more playing time. I still have doubts that he’s capable of holding down the role full time, but any court time he can get right now is good for him.