It has been a struggle and there have been plenty of hiccups along the way. But Saturday, for the second straight game, the defense was the strong suit supplementing a healthy dose of 3-point shooting and Dwight Howard on the offensive end. Houston struggled to score until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter and Howard got to rest the entire fourth quarter for the second straight night.
There was no doubt in this one as the Magic raced out to a 21-point second-half lead and won 118-104 at Toyota Center on Saturday.
The Rockets shot 38.9 percent from the floor and 8 of 27 from beyond the arc. And, in the first half, Houston was relying on the 3-point shot for the majority of its offense. Houston had a 113.0 efficiency rating (which is actually pretty good), but that was likely a product of getting 19 offensive rebounds and finishing with 28 points in the fourth quarter. By that stage, the game was over and Stan Van Gundy was the only on frustrated with the play on the floor.
Orlando's defense was absolutely stifling. For the first time in a long time, the team looked like it was all on the same page defensively.
Howard was a given on the defensive end. He swarmed the glass to pick up 14 rebounds and swat two shots. In fact, Brandon Bass and Hedo Turkoglu joined him with two blocks each as well.
The Rockets were struggling to score for the first three quarters. A quick pace gave them a respectable amount in point total, but that was more a product of the fast pace. The Magic were at a 100 points by the end of the third quarter and held a 24-point lead.
The game was over in the fourth and the Magic went to stat-filling mode as the starters sat on the bench for the second straight game.
They put in their work too to get that deserved break.
Howard and Turkoglu got things going early. Howard finished with 22 points and Turkoglu poured in a season-high 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Rockets actually did a good job early on Howard as Chuck Hayes used his low base to push Howard out of the lane. But he did not have the ability or stamina to keep it up. Howard eventually solved him and went to work.
Jameer Nelson supplemented those efforts with nine assists and 10 points. Brandon Bass and Jason Richardson each had 18 points and Gilbert Arenas posted five assists in his first six minutes in the game finishing with four points in 20 minutes.
Orlando shot 52.9 percent from the floor and hit on 13 of 32 3-pointers. The Magic, for the first three quarters, were clicking on all cylinders and picking apart the Houston defense.
After that swoon on the road trip last week, Orlando has found its stride again a bit in this three-game win streak. It has helped that the competition has lightened up. But Van Gundy has been looking for positive signs that the team is showing improvement and making improvements. This game was certainly a step in the right direction.