Fo­cus, of­fense’s an­chor drift off

Har­den’s touch with 3-point­ers goes cold

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - JONATHAN FEIGEN

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.”

John Raoux / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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