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Washington Wizards 92, Orlando Magic 91

In the sort of loss that's typified a relatively disappointing season, the Orlando Magic blew a 21-point, first-half lead--which stood at 15 at intermission--to fall to the last-place Washington Wizards, 92-91. Caron Butler scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half and made the game-winning shot, a fadeaway from the left baseline over Matt Barnes, to cap the rally and give Washington arguably its best win of the year. Butler and Foye combined for 34 of Washington's 36 third-quarter points, helping the Wizards exceed their first-half total (35) in a single period. Orlando jumped out to a 12-0 lead thanks to Washington turning the ball over on their first 6 possessions. If you discount those early miscues, then Washington outscored Orlando 92-79. Straight-up embarrassment.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Wizards 99 92.9 45.6% 25.3 21.4 20.2
Magic 97 93.8 42.8% 24.1 15.7 11.3
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Thing is, we should have seen this one coming. When Orlando wasn't scoring off Washington's early turnovers, it wasn't scoring. Period. The Magic struggled to get into an offensive rhythm all night. Vince Carter bailed them out with some aggressive drives to the hoop, drawing 10 free throw attempts and making each one, while Dwight Howard had some success posting up backup center Andray Blatche or passing out of double-teams for three-pointers. But really, the lack of offensive movement--be it the ball or players away from it--did Orlando in.

Carter played a fine game offensively, with 21 points, despite shooting 5-of-17. He looked to get to the basket, as I said, and seemed to take it upon himself to break the Magic out of their funk. That's fine. But he had some high-profile errors on both ends of the floor that will no doubt have some fans calling for his head. First, at the 3:14 mark of the third quarter, after an off-balance trey by Antawn Jamison knotted the game at 60, Carter launched a deep three of his own with 10 seconds on the shot clock, despite having an open driving lane to at least the mid-post. Point guard Jason Williams nearly lost the ball out of bounds along the left sideline before dishing to Carter, so perhaps the urgency with which he threw the pass made Carter think the situation was more dire than it was. Butler streaked out in transition to give Washington its first lead of the game.

But it was his defense that hurt Orlando in the 4th. In close games, coach Stan Van Gundy preers to play Carter at small forward to make room for J.J. Redick at shooting guard. Van Gundy trusts Redick on both ends of the floor in these situations because he's a heady player. This shift gave Carter the assignment on Butler, and while it's true that Butler just hit some incredible jumpers with Carter's hand in his face, Carter's misplay of a Butler drive with just more than a minute to play proved costly. Butler isolated on Carter on the left wing, foul-line extended. Carter leaned ever so slightly to his left to take away Butler's right hand. But he gave up too much ground, as Butler simply put the ball on the floor to his left Butler caught him napping by passing the ball back out, then cutting hard to the hoop and drove through an open lane for a powerful dunk, giving the Wizards a one-point lead.

Carter had a chance to score Orlando's winning points after successive empty possessions for Orlando and Washington, running the high pick-and-roll with Howard in what's become Orlando's signature, late-game play in Van Gundy's tenure with the team. Carter drove right around Howard's screen, crossed back over left, and continued driving to his left. The Wizards denied Howard the ball on his roll, and Carter launched a fadeaway from the left baseline without setting his feet. The shot arced too high and bounced off long. And though Orlando did later take a one-point lead with a tough three-pointer by Rashard Lewis with 4.6 seconds to play, Carter's poor shot selection in that key situation stands out.

Now, I've spent 3 paragraphs now discussing what Carter did wrong without giving him much credit for what he did right. And I suppose this last bit of the recap gives the impression that Carter's solely responsible for the loss. He isn't, and I'd argue that he was Orlando's second-best player tonight. Howard played a solid game, with 20 points, 18 boards, and 3 blocks, but no one else distinguished himself. The Wizards held a 10-rebound advantage, played harder (though not necessarily smarter), and was simply the better team tonight, despite its mental lapses.

Another key factor tonight was the Magic's lack of production from their bench. Redick needed 8 shots to score 9 points, but the trio of Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson, and Marcin Gortat contribted just 4 points on 1-of-11 shooting. Williams scored 7 points on 4 shots with 3 assists and just 1 turnover, but his inability to stick with Foye defensively meant he gave up more points than he contributed.

This loss is just Orlando's 5th at Amway Arena, and second that went down to the final shot, meaning the Magic could just as easily hold a 21-3 home record instead of its current 19-5 one. But that's besides the point: the Magic frittered a 21-point lead away against what had been the 14th-ranked team in the Eastern Conference (the win, coupled with Detroit's loss, moved the Wizards to 13th). Only the historically awful New Jersey Nets kept Washington from occupying the East's cellar. The Magic should be able to hold a lead of that size against any team, but especially one as bad as Washington. I'm speaking ill of the Wizards' season in general when I call them "bad." Against the Magic, they've been spectacular, with a 2-0 record and 2 come-from-behind wins.

Orlando's schedule stiffens as it heads to the All-Star break, with a stretch of 4 games in 5 nights, and with all 3 of the road games against playoff teams. Tonight's outcome did little to inspire confidence in a team that had won 7 of its last 8 and appeared to be turning a corner, a sentiment that Van Gundy called "crap" after the game.