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Shorthanded Rockets have no problem with Magic

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- Two nights after riding a team effort to victory without the contributions of their leading scorer, the Houston Rockets took offensive execution to another level, despite a shorthanded roster.

Missing their two leading scorers, the Rockets still had enough offense to thwart the Orlando Magic 111-103 on Monday night at Toyota Center.

It mattered little that guard James Harden (sore right foot) and forward Chandler Parsons (food poisoning) were unavailable against the Magic, whose active roster lacked the starting backcourt of Jameer Nelson (sprained right ankle) and Arron Afflalo (strained right hamstring).

The Rockets (41-33) rode the surprising productivity of their big men, Omer Asik and Greg Smith, to a 25-point lead and then held on late.

"If we'll move and read and react, I think we'll be able to play those two (together)," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "The big thing is where we got in trouble is they started fronting and then we just started trying to jam. We've got to have an offensive set where we look in there, then get off it and start playing our style which is spread, move, drive, kick.

"We were good at that all game long."

Asik and Smith, starting in tandem for just the second time this season, connected on 10 of 11 shots in the first quarter, setting a dominant interior tone that the Rockets parlayed into 60 points in the paint. Asik recorded his 31st double-double, posting 22 points and 18 rebounds, while Smith overcame steady foul trouble and finished with 12 points.

Asik matched his career high in scoring, doing so with a variety of shots that showcased precisely how much progress he has made offensively.

"He's grown a lot, he really has," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said of Asik. "Even little things like being in the right place at the right time or finishing quickly before the defense gets there or picking up and catching balls that he might not have caught before. He's definitely come a long way."

Even without Harden and Parsons, who combined average 41.1 points, the Rockets had few problems offensively. It helped that they committed only nine turnovers and that Lin was nearly flawless at the controls with 19 points and a season-high-tying 11 assists. His double-double was the eighth this season.

Veteran swingman Francisco Garcia, on the heels of his unexpected 15-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, started for Parsons and chipped in 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting.

"We didn't have a stop (defensively) on the first 11 possessions of the game," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "We have to have a better mindset and focus going into the game. You could see the difference in the second half."

Magic rookie forward Maurice Harkless was an offensive whirlwind and scored a career-high 28 points, but Orlando struggled to replace the production lost with Nelson and Afflalo sidelined. Beno Udrih had 17 points and 10 assists in his second consecutive start for Nelson, but the rest of the backcourt rotation -- DeQuan Jones, E'Twaun Moore and Doron Lamb -- contributed just eight points while missing 13 of 16 shots.

With the wire-to-wire victory, Houston clinched its seventh consecutive nonlosing season. Orlando (19-56) dropped its eighth consecutive road game despite cutting the deficit to five points late in the fourth quarter.

"Guys on our team don't quit," Harkless said. "We always fight back. I love playing with these guys because they never quit."

NOTES: Udrih, acquired by the Magic from the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 21, scored a season-high 20 points substituting for Nelson against the Atlanta Hawks on March 30. "(With) shot selection, we want them to be aggressive; they initiate our offense," Vaughn said of Nelson and Udrih. "I've been playing both at the same time and so their ability to shoot the ball, to shoot the 3 (is obvious). I think the only thing that is different in some of the diagrams I draw is I've got to draw them to Beno's left hand. We're able to run and get into all of our sets (with Udrih) without a doubt." ... With Harden and Parsons out, McHale was forced to adjust his rotation. McHale has longed to set his rotation in advance of the postseason, but trade-deadline acquisitions and injuries have delayed that goal. "I just wish I was done evaluating with nine games to go," McHale said. "That would be a lot easier."
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