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Rockets still searching for consistency after OT win

The Houston Rockets make it hard on themselves. A 119-114 overtime victory against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night shouldn't be this complicated.

But it was.

The Magic came into this game on the second game of a back-to-back and the Rockets were rested. Or as rested as could be.

Yet the Rockets, after scoring 68 points in a first half full of ball movement, good spacing and 57.1 percent shooting, forgot what it takes to take control of a game in the second half.

The Magic outscored the Rockets, 51-42, and the home team still had a chance to seal the victory at the end of regulation. James Harden missed a free throw and Corey Brewer missed two more down the stretch, allowing the Magic to force overtime on two free throws from Evan Fournier.

In overtime, the Rockets were able to get some strong plays, including a jumper from Harden, who was fouled after nailing a shot that rattled in to push the team to a four-point lead.

After Orlando came within three, the Rockets did other things besides score that helped.

Brewer snagged an offensive rebound with 2:09 to play to give the Rockets another possession.

Solid defense from Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson in doubling Shabazz Napier in front of the Rockets' bench with 37.5 seconds left forced a turnover.

Harden grabbed a rebound in traffic following a missed 3-pointer from Napier and allowed himself to get fouled so he could clinch the game by making two foul shots.

In the midst of this modest two-game win streak, the Rockets still search for consistency.

Harden was asked if he was surprised his team is continuing to search for it.

"No because we haven't had an opportunity to be with each other for a long period of time," Harden said. "It's going to come. You can't force it, it's got to be natural. We haven't had an opportunity for a long period of time to be good, so we're not worried about that. It's about playing games, preaching the right things and going out there and executing."

At some point the lack of continuity because of the injuries in training camp, and even now in the early stages of the season, will solve itself.

"It's encouraging, we're capable of it, but we have to be consistent with it and do it for longer periods of time, four quarters and we're building towards that," Harden said. "It's not going to happen overnight. ... As long as we continue to do the right things, we'll build toward it."

The Rockets are still building up Howard, who missed the majority of the preseason because of a stiff back. Howard was fantastic Wednesday, playing 31 minutes scoring 23 points on 10-of-10 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds. He was physical and challenged shooters at the rim, even drawing a flagrant foul by knocking Aaron Gordon to the floor on a drive.

"I was exhausted, but that's good," Howard said.

Coach Kevin McHale has to play small ball when Howard rests because the two other bigs, Terrence Jones (lacerated right eyelid) and Donatas Motiejunas (back rehab) are not playing.

McHale moved Marcus Thornton into the starting lineup on Sunday against Miami and the Rockets are 2-1 with him as the extra outside scoring threat.

Thornton had a strong night, scoring 18 points in 29 minutes, but eventually McHale will get Jones and Motiejunas back so he has to incorporate them.

These adjustments mean the Rockets must build chemistry again.

The Rockets lost all sorts of players to injuries last season but survived it thanks to an MVP-type season from Harden, becoming the No. 2 seed in the West.

That's a high bar to reach every season, so McHale is mixing and matching his rotations on the fly. Backup point guard Patrick Beverley went down in the first half when he got popped in the head, so McHale used Jason Terry for the second half.

"We found a way to win; it wasn't pretty," McHale said.

What's not pretty right now is Harden's game. It seemed he had broken out of his slump on Monday with a 37-point performance against Oklahoma City, but he shot 6-for-22 from the field and 2-for-11 from 3 in the follow-up. Harden says he isn't worried about his shot because he has dealt with slumps before, but it just looks bad when you're best player is shooting 29.4 percent from the field after five games.

"James will be OK," McHale said. "He will be fine."

Harden will undoubtedly be fine, and with Lawson finding more of a comfort level within the offense, things will improve.

It's just the inconsistency that leaves you shaking your head considering how talented the Rockets are and how they're not playing to their potential.

"Right now, we're not in a great rhythm on either side of the ball, but we'll find it," McHale said. "We showed spurts of it, the 68 points in the first half was nice and then we kind of fell back to old habits."