Rockets rally for revenge, madden Magic

Fred VanVleet carried the Houston Rockets to victory against the Magic.
Fred VanVleet carried the Houston Rockets to victory against the Magic. / Tim Warner/GettyImages

The games may not matter to you anymore. Evidently, they still matter to the Houston Rockets. In last night's contest with the Orlando Magic, the Rockets played with a sense of urgency.

It paid off. The Rockets beat the playoff-bound Magic by a final score of 118-106. In some respects, this game wasn't as close as the score suggests. At the same time, it was too close for comfort.

Houston Rockets nearly drop the ball

After a 36-25 first quarter, this one looked well in hand. Give the Magic credit. They hung around and made this game competitive. In the fourth quarter, the Magic were able to shave the lead to 8.

This has been a recurring theme for the Rockets in 2023-24. They seem to start hot and gradually run colder. In 2024-25, they'll need to fix that. The Rockets will need to secure the leads they gain if they're going to be a playoff team.

In the meantime, a win is a win. The Rockets are honoring a time-tested tradition of playing spoiler as the regular season comes to an end. The Magic had a chance to clinch the Southeast Division last night, but the Rockets had other plans for them.

How did they do it?

Houston Rockets get boost from veteran

Fred VanVleet doesn't always rack up points. Sometimes, he plays the role of the game manager. Last night, he was more of a game-breaker.

VanVleet finished with 37 points on 13/22 shooting from the field, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. You may like VanVleet's contract, and you may not. One fact is undeniable - he earned his keep last night.

So did Jabari Smith Jr. The sophomore forward finished with 23 points on 9/17 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Beyond the stat sheet, Smith Jr. made several strong defensive plays on the interior.

By contrast, Jalen Green was somewhat underwhelming with 14 points on 6/17 shooting, although he did add 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Amen Thompson was statistically solid, but his 4 assists and 4 turnovers reflect some ongoing struggles in terms of halfcourt creation.

What's next for the young Rockets?

Houston Rockets look to finish strong

The Rockets have three games remaining - against the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Clippers.

They should win two of those games. The Jazz and the Blazers are both in full-on tank mode. Still, a win over James Harden's Clippers would put a feather in the Rockets' cap heading into the offseason.

Whether that matters to you or not.