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Washington Wizards 104, Orlando Magic 97

The cold-shooting Orlando Magic squandered an 81-71 advantage over the Washington Wizards with 10:39 to play and dropped their fourth straight game, and in stunning fashion, by a final score of 104-97. An inspired Wizards team, with the Verizon Center crowd fully behind it, rallied to close the game on a 33-16 run, leaving Orlando bamboozled. Dwight Howard scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but his fellow starters shot 10-of-32 for 29 points, which put extra pressure on the Magic's bench. Worse still, shooting guard Vince Carter left the game in the second quarter after spraining his left shoulder; Carter looked good for the first time in a long time in his limited time on the floor tonight. Power forward Antawn Jamison scored 28 and grabbed 11 rebounds for Washington, which also got solid production from small forward Caron Butler (23 points, 7 boards), and center Brendan Haywood (18 points, 15 rebounds). Point guard Randy Foye scored 20, but his statistics are a bit inflated due to Orlando's fouling him in an ultimately futile effort to prolong the game. Orlando's four-game losing skid is its first since the 2007 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and its first in the regular season since February 20-25 of the same year.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 92 105.0 47.0% 21.4 24.5 13.0
Wizards 92 112.9 46.3% 37.5 34.9 17.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

The Magic are surely scratching their heads after this loss. They looked to be a stop or two away from securing victory when they held the aforementioned 81-71 lead, but Washington countered with two three-pointers to make a four-point game of it, and the Magic melted down from there. A Mickael Pietrus layup extended their lead to 6, but Brandon Bass was whistled for an iffy shooting foul on Jamison on the Wizards' ensuing possession. Bass earned a technical as he stormed off the floor, with Butler sinking the technical foul shot and Jamison converting his chances for yet another three-point possession. Fittingly enough, given Orlando's struggles in this area of late, Washington took the lead for good when Haywood followed Caron Butler's missed jumper, making the score 86-85. A clearly rattled Orlando team went the next 4:45 without a field goal as the Wizards extended their lead to 96-89, putting the game realistically out of reach--the way Orlando was shooting, it could not hope o surmount a three-possession deficit with 2:46 to play.

I say "clearly rattled" because the Magic abandoned the solid inside-out ball movement that helped them build their 10-point lead, with every player instead looking for his own shot, as the Magic's TV crew of David Steele and Matt Guokas noted. I don't recall Orlando playing this much one-on-one ball since Brian Hill ran isolation plays for Grant Hill in that ill-fated 2007 season. Defensively, it wound up committing silly fouls. Thing is, it didn't start that way. The officials whistled three fouls (two team fouls) on the Magic in the first 37 seconds of the fourth quarter, which must have bothered them. Lewis disqualified himself after inexplicably reaching in on Mike Miller with the shot-clock winding down, and Miller losing control of the ball. He made the situation worse when he got called for a technical foul of his own, even after coach Stan Van Gundy and co-captain Jameer Nelson managed to pry him away from the official. The technical was a bit of a delayed call, and Van Gundy and Nelson both erupted when learning of the technical.

As you may have gathered, it was a complete and utter meltdown, both strategically and emotionally. This team is in a bad way right now, and Van Gundy knows it. He said he's fairly happy with his reserves, who have played "OK" in his estimation. The problem is with his four stars: Carter, Howard, Lewis, and Nelson. He said that they haven't been able to have good offensive games simultaneously, and accepted responsibility for not being able to get them going. He also said he needs to get power forward Ryan Anderson, who earned his second consecutive DNP-Coach's Decision, back into the rotation because of his offensive skills. Bass got the nod at power forward tonight because of the speed Washington has at that position, according to Van Gundy. To Bass' credit, he did snare a season-high 5 offensive rebounds in just 14 minutes. The problem was his consistent poor positioning and decision-making on the defensive end, which negates any speed advantage he has on Jamison or Andray Blatche. When Bass sharply showed on a pick-and-roll between Jamison and 5'05" point guard Earl Boykins in the first half, leaving Jamison a wide-open lane to the basket for the layup, it should have been a sign that he was in a bit over his head.

I don't want to pile on Bass here, because the 5 offensive rebounds he grabbed were important. And he was arguably Orlando's most effective power forward on the night, with Lewis missing 9 of his 13 shots and unable to keep up with Jamison. In a bit of a twist, Lewis was more interested in driving to the basket than shooting three-pointers. He was also a bit more interested in trying to draw contact than actually putting the ball in the basket, a crime of which Nelson is also guilty, albeit to a lesser extent. Lewis didn't draw any shooting fouls in his 30 minutes, which is a bit surprising given his aggression and some of the contact he managed to absorb. Still, he and Nelson (2-of-11 for 6 points, 5 assists, only 1 turnover) were largely ineffective. Van Gundy is right: he needs to do something--anything--to ensure more than one of his stars can produce on offense each night.

Haywood and Blatche combined to grab 9 offensive rebounds for Washington tonight, which explains the Wizards' high level of efficiency despite their poor shooting. For the 4th time in 5 games, Orlando struggled to keep its opponent off its own backboard. That responsibility falls to Howard, Lewis, backup center Marcin Gortat, and whichever backup power forward Van Gundy elects to play.

Tonight, it was Howard's turn to carry the offensive load. He established deep post position on Haywood, one of the league's better defensive centers, and finished over him with several pretty rolling hooks or, in transition, more simple layups. Where Haywood and the Wizards got the best of him was at the foul line: he missed 7 of his 12 foul shots, making Wizards head coach Flip Saunders' "Smite-a-Dwight" strategy work.

Orlando will look to avoid extending its losing streak to 5 tomorrow night at Amway when it hosts the Atlanta Hawks. The Magic, losers of 6 of their last 7 road games, will then head West on a 4-game road trip.