Sizzling-hot Harden leads Houston against Magic
Beating Boston on Saturday put a spring in the step of the Orlando Magic, snapping a four-game losing streak to sit 10th in the Eastern Conference standings. They'll need it Sunday when the Houston Rockets come calling in the second half of a back-to-back.
Orlando played with a purpose Saturday, at least under the assessment of forward Aaron Gordon.
"I think that we knew what we were doing and where we wanted our buckets to come from, whether it was Evan 1/8Fournier 3/8, Vooch 1/8Nikola Vucevic 3/8 or T-Ross. We were getting to the 1/8free-throw 3/8 line," said Gordon. "We understood where we needed to score, at what time, and we just kept chipping away."
Gordon had a game-high 28 points and the Magic held on for a 105-103 win over the visiting Celtics. Terrence Ross added 25 off the bench.
Orlando is only one game out of the eighth playoff spot in the East with 40 games to go. Head coach Steve Clifford senses a surge coming from the Magic.
"We're not going to go 35-5, but we're going to give ourselves a chance to play meaningful games, which to me that's what this season is all about," Clifford said.
Houston is led by MVP James Harden, who became the first player in league history to record a triple-double in less than 30 minutes of action on Friday as the Rockets throttled the Cavaliers. Harden had 43 points, 12 assists and 10 boards in 29 minute.
The Magic know Harden's ability all too well. Last January, Harden closed out the month by dropping a franchise-record 60 points -- 17 on free throws -- and recorded a triple-double in a Rockets' win.
Orlando has some length to throw at Harden on the defensive end -- including Gordon -- but when he's rolling, the reigning league MVP has been virtually unguardable. With Harden stirring the offense, Houston has 70 or more points in the first half six times this season.
"The step-back 3s, he's perfected that," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's got 16 3s and they're all step-backs. I don't know how he does it ... everybody knows what he's doing and he still gets them off, and they're kind of open. They're not forced, so he's just an incredible player."
Lineup adjustments have aided the Rockets, with forward Danuel House installed as a starter over the last 10 games, Houston is 8-2.
It will be at least another two weeks before the Rockets have point guard Chris Paul back, D'Antoni said last week. Harden has played more point guard, but the offense is not slowing down without CP3.
Paul has missed 10 consecutive games.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon (knee) missed the last six games for the Rockets.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 13, 2019