For most of Wednesday’s 116-110 win over the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic looked like a team closing out a four-game road trip.
They came out lacking intensity on both ends of the floor at Toyota Center, allowing the Rockets to take an early 29-15 lead and trailing 64-54 at halftime after Houston scored at least 31 in the first two quarters.
But after trailing by 77-62 early in the third, the Magic (12-21) found themselves defensively with the help of their 2-3 zone defense, holding the Rockets (9-22) to 33 points over the last 20½ minutes to pull out their seventh victory in their last eight games.
The Magic went 3-1 on the road swing, with back-to-back wins over the Celtics (Friday and Sunday) before narrowly falling in Atlanta Monday to end their then-six-game win streak.
The victory gave the Magic their first winning road trip of at least three games since Dec. 26-29, 2020.
For nearly 24 hours, it was uncertain whether Franz Wagner would continue his streak of consecutive games played.
Those worries were put to rest ahead of tipoff, with Wagner in the starting lineup for the 33rd consecutive game after entering the matchup listed as questionable because of a sprained right ankle.
He led the Magic with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field (4 of 8 on 3s).
Paolo Banchero had 23 points (9-of-20 shooting) and 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double to go with 3 assists and 2 steals. He scored 14 in the first to keep the Magic in the game despite their sluggish start and made a layup to give the Magic a 114-108 lead with 48 seconds remaining to help seal the win.
Cole Anthony led the bench with 15 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds in 23 minutes and had a team-high plus-15 plus/minus, leading the second unit when they gave the Magic their first lead, 96-95, early in the fourth.
Wednesday featured a matchup between two top picks in June’s draft in Banchero (No. 1 pick) and Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (No. 3).
The West-worst Rockets are on a four-game losing streak but have gone 7-10 since Nov. 16. Smith had picked up his play after a slow start, averaging 13.4 points (42.3% shooting, 37.6% on 3s) in the previous 16 games entering Wednesday.
He finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting and 5 rebounds.
“He’s changing his game in so many ways,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of Smith pregame. “He’d come in as just as a shooter. Obviously, he’s making shots now but there are times he’s bringing the ball up the floor. Just trying to keep himself involved in the offense in different ways. They put him on the block a couple of times. He’s evolving into more than just a ‘space shooter.’ “
The Rockets were led by Kevin Porter Jr.’s 31 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Jalen Green added 21 points and 8 rebounds.
Mosley also addressed the status of third-year forward Chuma Okeke, who’ll be sidelined for at least the next month after having arthroscopic left knee surgery.
Okeke underwent a chondroplasty — a procedure that involves shaving/smoothing damaged cartilage.
The Magic said in a statement that he’ll be reevaluated in four weeks. He hasn’t played since leaving the Nov. 21 road loss to the Indiana Pacers with knee soreness — his injury designation for the last month before having surgery.
“I do feel for Chum,” Mosley said. “He’s going to do a great job of getting himself back to the court, doing all of the things that are asked of him to get back.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.