In year’s past, Orlando might have completely squandered its lead after jumping ahead by as many as 17 points in the first half against Houston.
Instead, this year’s version of the Magic quickly steadied the ship to close the quarter on a 24-7 run en route to a commanding 30-point victory Wednesday — the franchise’s largest to open a regular season.
“It’s really about that level of maturity,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “It’s what we’ve worked on.”
Orlando was able to extend its lead in the final seven minutes of the third by making easy baskets close to the rim, getting to the free throw line (6 of 6 in that stretch) and forcing Houston to take poor shots.
Following VanVleet’s 3, the Rockets shot 3 of 11 from the field, including 0 of 4 from 3, to go with 4 turnovers.
“There were a couple of times they got it back and Markelle [Fultz] slowed the ball down, got us into our set, running nice execution and Franz [Wagner] gets to the basket,” Mosley said. “It’s those things that showed the maturity and growth of this group. We just have to keep holding onto that, but then there are obviously still areas of improvement.
“We can’t let go of it when we do have a lead.”
Of course, it’s just one of 82 games the Magic will play but the team was more sure of itself against the Rockets, who tied for the second-worst record in the NBA last season at 22-60.
Orlando held Houston to 40.5% shooting from the field and finished with a 57-31 advantage on the boards. In addition, the Magic scored 54 points in the paint compared with 32 by the Rockets.
“You started with a lead, you sustain the lead and we didn’t let it get away from us for the most part,” Mosley said. “Being mature enough to handle success. Being able to act like you’ve been here before. Because at the end of the day, you don’t want to celebrate the one win.
“Win or lose, we are going to get back to work the right way every day.”
Orlando had Thursday off while the team spent the afternoon traveling to Portland to open a four-game road trip Friday night against the Trail Blazers (10 p.m., Bally Sports Florida). It marks the earliest West coast trip in franchise history and the only West coast trip that has ever started in October for Orlando.
There’s plenty of room for improvement and the Magic know it. The team turned the ball over 16 times and shot 26% from beyond the arc.
Still, the ability to hold onto a lead against Houston — its roster features veterans VanVleet and Dillon Brooks mixed with young players such as 2022 No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr. and ’23 No. 4 Amen Thompson — shows better poise from a season ago.
“In a game even last year, we might have let that happen and might have folded,” guard Cole Anthony said. “The tide of the game could have easily switched.
“As a unit and as a team, we stayed calm, stayed collected and stayed under control and it allowed us to get that lead back and turn it into a pretty big lead.”