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Howard, Rockets silence Orladno

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO -- Center Dwight Howard returned to face the Magic in Orlando and another chorus of boos, but his Houston Rockets silenced the crowd with another dominating performance as they continued their second-half rise in the Western Conference.

Howard had 19 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday in his second time returning to Orlando since forcing a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, sinking a franchise once built around him, leaving a bitter fan base behind.

Guard James Harden led everyone with 31 points in the 101-89 victory over the Magic, leaving the Rockets with the best record (21-6) in the NBA since Jan. 1 and determined to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Magic (19-44) are one of the worst teams in the league.

"I think last year was a little more emotional coming back to Orlando. I understand how people feel," he said. "But this year, I just wanted to come in and get a good win. We're moving in the right direction now. This team is reading each other better, improving as we grow. I'm looking forward to the rest of season and trying to get 55 wins. That's the goal."

The Rockets (42-19) started slowly after an emotional victory Tuesday over the Miami Heat, but they dominated in the second half when Harden and Howard came alive. Harden had 25 points after intermission.

"We've come a long way in the past couple week," Harden said. "It's chemistry, putting a new team together and taking the time to grow. We've improved to the point where we're tough to beat."

Rockets forward Chandler Parsons had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Forward Terrence Jones had 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Rockets held a 49-34 rebound advantage. They outscored the Magic 60-41 in the second half.

"It's night and day around here now from earlier this season," Parsons said. "With so much talent here -- Dwight coming in new -- people thought it would happen overnight, but it doesn't work like that. It's a process, and we're playing really well right now. We're just scratching the surface of what we can become. Our goals are high."

The Magic were led by guard Arron Afflalo, who had 18 points in his first game back after missing five with a sprained ankle. Center Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Magic closed the deficit to 79-76 early in the fourth quarter before the Rockets pulled away, doing as they pleased down the stretch.

"Overall, I thought we did a good job in the first half," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "But it's tough (against Howard and Harden). That's a good basketball team. Give them credit."

The Rockets dominated the third quarter, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a 75-65 lead going into the fourth. Harden and Howard sparked the surge with 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the period.

The Rockets opened the decisive third quarter with an 8-0 run, then closed it by scoring the last 11 points. The Magic never seriously challenged after intermission.

The Magic led 48-41 at halftime, getting 12 points from Maurice Harkless and 10 each from Vucevic and Afflalo. They led by as many 14 points early in the second period.

Parsons scored 15 points in the second quarter, sparking the start of a comeback that erased much of the Magic's early lead.

Howard started slowly, committing three turnovers in the first five minutes. He had seven points, five rebounds and four turnovers in the first half. He looked bothered by what he was hearing in the stands.

"The great thing about sports is that you can pay for a ticket and cheer and boo for whoever you want," Vaughn said. "Some people are liked more than others. Our fans are passionate, and they have group in our locker room that wants to be here."

NOTES: As part of their 25th anniversary celebration, the Magic showed a video tribute to Rockets C Dwight Howard, who forced a trade from Orlando in 2012 and prompted the fall of the franchise. The crowd reaction was mixed but mostly featured boos. Through much of the first period, he was booed each time he touched the ball. "Hopefully, the fans can forgive me for how the situation ended," Howard said before the game. ... Houston F Chandler Parsons, longtime Magic fan who played high school basketball in Central Florida, said before the game if he were in the crowd this night, he would boo Howard, too. ... G Arron Afflalo, the Magic' leading scorer, returned after a five-game absence with an ankle injury. Orlando rookie G Victor Oladipo (sore left ankle) missed his first game of the season. PG Jameer Nelson (sore left calf) sat out his second consecutive game. ... Entering the game, the Rockets had won 19 consecutive games in which they scored at least 100 points, the longest active streak in the NBA.opening period when they jumped to a 32-19 lead.
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