Focus, offense’s anchor drift off
Harden’s touch with 3-pointers goes cold
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Rockets probably could have been missing their 3-pointers or their usual focus and intensity and found a way past the Orlando Magic. They could not make the shakiest of leads hold up without both. They did not lament the 3s they missed anywhere near as much as their inability to lock in, especially defensively, with a final fourth-quarter collapse sending the Magic rushing past and to a 116-109 win Sunday.
That might have said plenty about the intensity shortage they seemed to sense from the start, with James Harden — even on a night with 38 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and four steals — missing as many 3-pointers as anyone has in a game; the Rockets were 3-of-18 from deep in the second half.
“They just didn’t go in,” said Harden, who went 1-of-17 from beyond the 3-point line. “It’s not even about offense. Defensively, we weren’t locked in. We scored enough points to win. We weren’t focused the entire four quarters. We didn’t have our focus level like we’ve been having these last few weeks. They caught us off-guard.”
Potentially more troublesome, Rockets center Clint Capela left Amway Center with his right thumb wrapped with a plan to have it re-examined Monday after X-rays were inconclusive. Capela said he was hit in the thumb on an alley-oop in the third quarter, but did not consider any injury to be serious. He played three more minutes in the third quarter after the play, grimacing for a few moments on the bench, and played nine minutes down the stretch.
“As I was going up for the lob, I got hit in the hand,” Capela said. “We’re going to see what is it when we go back home. It’s just sore right now. We can’t really see anything (on the X-ray) yet. We’ll see what happens.”
Playing without Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, the Rockets were asking Harden to carry them while getting just enough scoring around him. While Harden scored at least 30 points in a 16th consecutive game, matching Kobe Bryant’s run for the longest in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain (20 games) in 1964, the Rockets got a season-high 25 points from Austin Rivers, but almost nothing off a bench even shorter than usual with Brandon Knight out with a sore left knee and Nene sitting the first game of the back-to-back.
Still, the Rockets led by 10 with less than nine minutes left and by seven with less than five minutes remaining after a Capela put-back dunk and a free throw. The Magic scored on their next eight possessions to leave the Rockets in the dust.
“I thought defensively we were really, really bad in the fourth quarter,” Rivers said. “We made like tick-tack mistakes the whole game and just kind of brushed them off because we were winning and we were making shots. As soon as those shots started not to fall, we kept making those mistakes and it came back to bite us. These losses, they hurt just because how tight the West is. This was supposed to be a win, but they are a competitive team, man. You can’t sleep on anybody.”
The Rockets should have gotten a wake-up call when the Magic came back from a 12-point deficit to beat the Celtics the night before.
“We should be even more focused when we’re not making 3s,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The only way you’ll win the game is if you play defense.”
The Rockets had built their turnaround on wins against stronger teams than the 19-24 Magic. That made the approach Sunday, D’Antoni said, “disheartening.”
“You can’t get up for Milwaukee or get up for Denver and don’t play tonight,” Rivers said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
Aaron Gordon, center, tied for the Magic’s scoring lead with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting Sunday in the win over the Rockets.