Rockets 98, Magic 88
HOUSTON -- Guard James Harden delivered a dominating all-around performance, leading the Houston Rockets to a 98-88 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night at Toyota Center.
Harden combined critical scoring with dazzling playmaking, pairing 27 points with 10 assists while defending Magic guard Arron Afflalo with vigor.
Houston (15-7) won for the 10th time in 13 games and embarks on a West Coast swing through Portland, Golden State and Sacramento.
The Rockets weren't flawless. They missed 18 free throws and committed 20 turnovers. The Magic (6-14) cut a 22-point deficit to 10 midway through the fourth quarter but could not stave off a fifth consecutive defeat.
Center Dwight Howard (20 points, 22 rebounds, three blocks) and forward Terrence Jones (16 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks) contributed double-doubles for the Rockets.
Afflalo scored 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Forward Glen Davis added 18 points for the Magic.
Without center Nik Vucevic for a third consecutive game (left ankle sprain), Orlando was especially susceptible to Howard inside. The Magic overcompensated by collapsing the paint defensively and the Rockets took advantage with one stretch of breathtaking perimeter shooting.
Trailing 9-4 in the first quarter, Houston reeled off seven consecutive 3-pointers, missing one trey and a Jones floater in the lane during that stretch. The Rockets' first five 3-pointers were the foundation of a 17-0 run that resulted in a 19-9 lead. Guard Patrick Beverley and Harden added 3-pointers following an Andre Nicholson trey to extend the advantage to 25-12.
Orlando did manage to keep Howard under control offensively, with Howard recording his first basket at the 6:36 mark of the second quarter, a put-back of a Beverley air ball. But Howard dominated the glass, grabbing 11 boards before the break -- four on the offensive end.
Houston overwhelmed the Magic on the glass, finishing with a 60-43 rebounding advantage. Without Vucevic and his 10.9 rebounds per game, the Magic were poised to struggle containing Howard and Jones.
NOTES: On the heels of his 43-point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 3, Magic G Arron Afflalo was averaging a career-high 22.4 points on just 15.9 shots per game going into Sunday's game. His efficiency has been extraordinary, with Miami Heat F LeBron James the only player in the NBA with a superior scoring average (25.5 points) and effective field-goal percentage (63.6 percent). Afflalo owns a 56.6 eFG percentage. "He's proven that you can be efficient in the game without searching the ball every possession," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of Afflalo. ... Rockets G Jeremy Lin worked out Sunday but missed his sixth consecutive game with a right knee sprain/contusion. He is on pace to return on Thursday at Portland. ... Magic C Nik Vucevic was sidelined for a third consecutive game with a sprained left ankle.