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Rockets rally in 4th quarter to hold off Magic

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Associated Press
3/1/2013 10:01:39 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- With their playoff hopes potentially hinging on each game down the stretch, the Houston Rockets can't afford to give away wins.

Thanks to what are becoming familiar late-game heroics by James Harden, those post-season prospects remain very much in sight.

Harden scored 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, as the Rockets rallied for a 118-110 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

The Rockets stopped a two-game skid and ended a five-game losing streak to the Magic. Houston trailed by two late in the game, before using an 11-0 run to seize control. Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino each added 21 points.

"All these games are going to count, especially if we want to make the playoff push," Harden said. "We try not to (think about it), because we try not to get sidetracked by thinking about too many other things."

Tobias Harris scored a career-high 27 points to lead Orlando, followed by Arron Afflalo with 19 and Niklola Vucevic with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

It was just the latest disappointing finish for a Magic team that has dropped two in a row and 30 of their last 34.

"We went out there tonight and played a heck of a game, brought a lot of energy, and battled to the end of the game," Harris said. "It just shows that as a team we're making steps. ... If we can just keep building on this, I think that would be good for us."

For three quarters the Magic actually seemed like the crisper team on both ends, spurred by the play of the second-year Harris.

They took a one-point lead into a fourth quarter that saw the lead change throughout.

The Magic reached the century mark first at 100-98, before turnovers and bad possessions led the Rockets' spurt, which put them up 109-100 with 3:28 to play.

Harris finally answered with a basket, but Houston's Delfino responded with a 3-pointer on the other end to grow the lead to 112-102.

E'Twaun Moore hit a jumper to cut it to 112-107, and Orlando then got the ball back on a miss by Houston. But Afflalo stepped out of bounds on the ensuing possession -- the Magic's 16th turnover of the night -- and the Rockets were able to close it out at the free-throw line.

The Magic had eight turnovers in the first three quarters, but nine in the final 12 minutes.

They also lost despite shooting a season-high 56 per cent (44 for 78) on the night.

The biggest contribution for the Rockets might have been from guard Patrick Beverley, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth, to go along with three steals.

Parsons said the next step in their playoff chase is improving defensively.

"We can score on anybody," he said. "We've got to put all our effort, all our energy and the defensive end. We've got to be able to win games when we don't score 100 points."

Harden (knee) and Jeremy Lin (ankle) were both game-time decisions Friday after sitting out the Rockets' practice on Thursday. Both started as scheduled, though, and were needed to keep up with an inspired Magic team offensively.

The Rockets shot 60 per cent (24 for 40) in a fast-paced first half, including 11 3-pointers. But Orlando was just as strong at 55 per cent (24 for 43) and trailed just 64-61 at halftime.

Parsons had 15 first-half points to lead the Rockets, with Nicholson and Harris each scoring 13 for the Magic.

Orlando also shared the ball with 20 assists and took care of the ball with only four turnovers.

That changed in the closing minutes, a recurring theme that Magic coach Jacque Vaughn also was high on the effort of Houston's Beverley.

"I think he came into the game and finished the stretch run for them," Vaughn said. "He hit key shots for them and, at the same time, was able to apply a little defensive pressure. I give a lot of credit to him and the fact that they were able to turn up the defence a little bit on us."

The Rockets return home to host Dallas on Sunday, hoping to keep their momentum alive.

Coach Kevin McHale said while it was nice to breakthrough with a victory, they still aren't playing like a team that is playoff bound by his standards.

"We don't have a great rhythm right now," he said. "We've been a team that's kind of start and stop...You already know we've got to hit the start button here again and get some rhythm going. If we can get a couple wins, get our practice in tomorrow and (can) hopefully start something good."

NOTES: Moore had a career-high 11 assists. ... Magic PG Jameer Nelson missed his fifth straight game with a left patella tendon contusion. He remains day-to-day. ... Former world champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. sat courtside.

James Harden (Photo: Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
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