As routs go, the Rockets handling of the Magic might not have been pretty, but it was said to have a good personality. When the Rockets style came through, they were really quite attractive. They had a long stretch of drive-and-kick 3s that sent the game toward a rout. James Harden had his second-consecutive stellar defensive performance, while rolling easily offensively. Dwight Howard celebrated his 28th birthday by hitting his former team with his first 20-20 game since he left Orlando. Yet, when the Rockets seemed to be heading to another home rout, they could not get out of their own way. They missed free throws. They turned the ball over. The 22-point lead they took into the fourth quarter was reduced to 10. That, however, was enough for Howard and Harden to take over again, until the longer the Rockets checked out their 98-85 win against the Magic on Sunday, the better it looked. With the assorted awkward moments that kept the night from being complete, and the starters from being able to take the fourth quarter off, the things that went well were the difference between the Rockets that began the week with consecutive maddening losses and finished it with solid, defense-first wins. That began with James Harden going from lit up by Gordon Hayward and P.J. Tucker to clamping down on Harrison Barnes and especially the Magic’s high-scoring Arron Afflalo. With Harden intense and energetic defensively, the Rockets joined him. “He’s great coming off pin-downs, isos and post-ups so I wanted to make a conscious effort to stay locked in when I was guarding him,” said Harden, who had 27 points with a season-high 11 assists and eight rebounds. “The last couple games I was really trying to lock in on the defensive end. Playing with that injury (a sore foot) kind of slowed me down and kind of kept me off of my defense a little bit. I just tried to pick it up and show my teammates I had their backs. “The intensity that I bring on the defensive end is going to rally my team together. It’s my job as a leader to go out there and do it.” The Rockets held a second-consecutive team to its worst shooting game of the season with the Magic hitting 34.3 percent a game after the Warriors made just 35.5 percent. Afflalo had 16 points, six shy of his average, on 6 of 17 shooting, but had just eight points, making 3 of 9 shots when Harden sat with the Rockets holding a 22-point lead. After Afflalo scored five quick points, Harden returned and held him to just 3 for his remaining eight minutes.
Rockets rely on familiar formula to beat Magic
Houston Chronicle | Dec 9