Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Magic
Both teams begin the day with identical 1-3 records though it could be argued one team deserves to have more W’s in the win the column and it’s not the Houston Rockets. While Houston finally broke through with a solid effort versus the Thunder the Magic have been in every contest they’ve played. An over ruled goal tending call cost them against Washington (87-88), the spectacular double overtime versus the Thunder (136-139) in a game where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 91 points and they held their in Chicago (87-92). All tolled the Magic lost those 3 games by 9 points.
In contrast the Rockets set an NBA record losing their first 3 games by 20 points each. To say it’s important the Rockets don’t take Orlando lightly would be a major understatement. The Magic will trot out an extremely young but talented back court, an offensively gifted front court and several athletic first and second year youngsters off their bench.
Case in point, the Magic registered their first win on the road facing Anthony Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans. Let’s just say these kids aren’t afraid of anyone! Let’s take a look at how Houston match up to this young squad:
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston
Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT and NBA TV
Radio: 790 AM
Last season the Rockets split the season series with the Magic but hold a favorable record overall:
Notably the in their last game versus Orlando the Rockets needed a strong fourth quarter to beat the Magic and Donatas Motiejunas had a big game on both ends scoring 23 points, grabbing 7 boards with 4 assists and limited Vucevic to 11 points and 11 rebounds.
- In a continuing trend for the Rockets they face their third consecutive team with no injuries to report
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
- Terrence Jones remains questionable for tonight as per CBS Sports
- Chuck Hayes is questionable for tonight with a foot injury (well that didn’t take long)
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Payton vs Lawson:
Lawson is still adapting to a new team and new sets, but had his best game versus Oklahoma City. Payton is developing into a solid point guard and plays both ends. Payton’s shot while still a work in progress is improving.
Slight Edge: Ty Lawson keeps it rolling after gaining confidence versus OKC and facing a young (albeit improving) guard he should be able to take the upper hand.
Shooting Guard – Victor Oladipo vs James Harden
After finally getting on track against his old team Harden needs to stay dialed in as he faces an up and coming Oladipo who loves the spotlight. He hit some monster shots in the double OT game versus the Thunder and will want to take it to Harden on both ends.
Edge: James Harden is ready to put in back to back solid efforts BUT this won’t be a cake walk for the bearded man as Oliadipo recorded 29 and 32 points in his last 2 outings against Harden.
That Beard defense! https://t.co/zr7KQv2xYU
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) November 3, 2015
Small Forward Evan Fournier – vs Marcus Thornton
Fournier had a huge night in New Orleans last night scoring 30 points (a career high) and hit the final 2 clutch shots that sealed the win. Thornton has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockets and hasn’t been a ball hog (that was his reputation coming in). The issue for Thornton is he tends to be a streaky shooter going cold just as quickly as he gets hot.
Edge: Evan Fournier
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) November 4, 2015
Power Forward: Tobias Harris versus Trevor Ariza
Ariza has historically played well against the Magic, but he may end up spread a little thin on defense given how much help he’s having to offer up front. Fortunately Harris isn’t known for his overriding defense, however he’ll be a handful on the offensive end. If McHale is smart he’ll switch Ariza onto Fournier and Thornton on Harris as the height match-up might make more sense.
Edge: Trevor Ariza While either Fournier or Harris can get rolling offensively despite Scott Skiles focus on defense (they currently have the 10th ranked defense) these 2 aren’t going to out do Ariza defensively which gives Ariza the edge. Look for a strong 2-way effort from Trevor tonight.
Center: Nikola Vucevic – vs. Dwight Howard
If you have league pass go watch the final seconds of the games Orlando lost and you’ll see Vucevic’s Achille’s heel: DEFENSE. While he’s been rising up the charts as one of the best offensive centers in the league he doesn’t match that prowess on the opposite end of the court and it’s mostly related to effort. Howard on the other hand will give 100% on both ends but isn’t in game shape yet given the stiff back he suffered in preseason which held up his conditioning. He hasn’t been ruled out of the line-up for this evening, so let’s assume he’s in and ready to help Harden in their efforts to get back to .500.
Edge: EVEN Last time these two faced each other their stat lines were eerily similar,
- Howard: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
- Vucevic: 25 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists
This comes down to Houston’s experience versus Orlando’s youth. Normally I’d say age wins out over youth every time, but last night the Magic got their first win on the road against a team who also has veteran experience. I’m excited to see rookie Hezonja and the growth of Gordon who was a beast in Orlando Summer League.
Edge: Rockets Let’s assume the Rockets are tired of the “what’s wrong with the Rockets headlines and knowing the Magic beat New Orleans will be focused to have their veteran experience out perform the youthful Magic team.
Keys to Winning:
- KEEP IT SIMPLE… exactly what it says.
- MOVE… people and the ball. It worked against the Thunder and is likely to become the cornerstone of their offense.
- EFFORT: The game against Oklahoma City felt more like a playoff match than the fourth game of the season. Houston can’t change the reality of being decimated up front, so being aggressive especially on defense is key.
- REBOUND: Of all the stats coming out of the Thunder win it was disconcerting the Rockets were beat by over 20 rebounds. The key to the Rockets creating pace and getting into their offense should come off defensive rebounding. If not for the 18 steals Houston snared the outcome would certainly have been different. Orlando rank 5th in rebounding (50.8 per game), but fortunately they also allow the second most opponent rebounds (51 per game). Houston need to crash the glass to take advantage of what rebounding does to help their offense.
- PACE: The stagnancy referred to following the Heat game disappeared in the Thunder game due primarily to steals. Like OKC the Magic are one of the Associations worst at hanging onto the ball (25th in turnovers/24th opponent steals)
- POINTS IN THE PAINT: Given Orlando’s bigs aren’t the best defenders it would behoove Lawson and Harden to drive the paint and Howard to go at Vucevic to get him in foul trouble early.
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With one win in the books albeit against the power house Thunder the odds makers completely ignore the fact Orlando beat New Orleans making the Rockets 8.5 point favorites with an over under of 208.5 points.
Examining the stats in the small 4 game sample size:
- Orlando have a healthy edge in opponent field goal percent, Magic opponents: 39.9% while Rockets hold opponents to a bloated 48.2%
- If Houston are looking to improve their perimeter shooting against Orlando they’ll have a hard time since the Magic rank 7th holding opponents to 28.6% from beyond the arc. Conversely the Rockets who were among the league’s best last year have yet to get on track allowing opponents to shoot a gaudy 41.8%.
Through the first 4 games the Magic rank:
- 22nd on offense (94.6 ppg)
- 10th on defense (96.2) Note: that’s huge considering the double overtime 139 points Oklahoma City scored.
- with a net rating of 19th (minus -1.6)
- 11th on pace 102.91
- 26th in true shooting percentage (49.1%)
- 23rd in effective field goal percentage (45.7%)
Conversely the Rockets rank:
- 29th on offense (91.3 ppg)
- 25th on defense (106.7 ppg)
- improved 4 spots to rand 27th in net rating following the win over OKC (minus-15.5)
- 15th on pace 101.97 (and climbing)
- 28th in true shooting percentage (48.8%)
- 26th in effective field goal percentage (44.2%)
While I’ve been impressed with the Magic’s start to the season and compete level the Rockets despite being decimated up front will want to build upon their confidence boosting win over the Thunder. Knowing the Magic won last night and should have tired legs look for the Rockets to jump on them early and push pace. Assuming the entire Rockets team crashes the boards and continues to play aggressively on defense this should result in a second W in the win column. I’m not as enthusiastic as the odds makers regarding the point differential as new Magic head coach Scott Skiles has Orlando playing much improved defense.
Prediction: Rockets by 5
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