Houston Rockets vs Orlando Magic game preview - December 21

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic
Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages
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The Houston Rockets and the Orlando Magic square off at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, December 21. The Rockets enter the game on a three-game losing streak after falling to the San Antonio Spurs 105-124. 

The Magic, while coming off a loss themselves, have been on fire as of late. Their one-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks ended a six-game winning streak that included two wins against the Boston Celtics in Boston. 

The Magic and Rockets feel like they’re headed in different directions, but overall, they’ve had rather comparable seasons. The Magic are 11-21. The Rockets are 9-21. The Magic have the fifth-worst net rating (-3.9), and the Rockets have the fourth-worst (-5.8). The 1.9 gap in net rating is also a product of the Magic’s 6-1 surge. Prior to that, their net rating was -6.8. Which raises the question, is the Magic’s newfound excellence here to stay? 

Can the Magic keep it up?

Over the past seven games, the Magic have produced an offensive rating of 117.7 and a defensive rating of 111.6, playing like a legitimately excellent team. What’s most encouraging is that they didn’t experience a massive effective field goal percentage bump. Prior to the run, they had a teamwide expected field goal percentage of 52.8% and saw that figure improve to 53.5% over the run. That’s an improvement, but it hardly explains a +8.0 improvement in offensive rating. 

The key to the Magic’s improved offense has been the complete reversal of their turnover rate. Over their first 25 games, they had a bottom-five turnover rate of 14.4%, but over the past seven games, they’ve produced a top-five rate of 11.9%. However, the improvements don’t stop there. They’ve also seen a small increase in offensive rebounding rate and an increase in free throw attempts and free throw shooting. 

The combination of shooting more efficiently with an increase in possessions is how a team goes from a woeful offense to one of the best. While the Magic almost certainly won’t continue to produce offense at his clip, there are a lot of positive indicators that their offensive improvements are real. 

On defense, the Magic, and their 111.6 defensive rating over the past seven games, is going to be hit hard by regression. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the league’s best opponent effective field goal percentage at 51.9%. The Magic have held opponents to 49.5% over the past seven games. On the season, the Magic have the league’s 17th-best opponent effective field goal percentage at 54%, and that includes the past seven games. 

They’ve also forced fewer turnovers and sent the opposition to the free-throw line more often. Outside of opponent shooting, the only area where they’ve improved has been in defensive rebounding. It’s impossible to know what’s real with the Magic’s defense over this period because of how poor their opponents have shot. Their defense could have gotten worse, better, or stayed the same. Until they stop getting lucky, we won’t really know. These are the stats to know, player to watch, and X-factor in the Rockets and Magic’s matchup.