It's hard to say who had the bigger handicap coming into tonight, as both teams were missing players. Orlando was again without the services of Victor Oladipo, C.J. Watson and Jason Smith, while Washington missed Bradley Beal, who sat with a shoulder injury. The Magic also had the rest disadvantage, playing a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, while the Wizards hadn't played since November 10th.
If the Magic were tired, they didn't show it early. They quickly jumped off to a 9-3 lead behind another solid performance from Evan Fournier, who sunk an early three and got a nice layup off a give-and-go from Channing Frye. Frye's spacing was valuable as he made his second start in a row in the wake of Oladipo's concussion. Unfortunately, Oladipo's absence would be felt on the defensive end. Orlando controlled most of the first quarter, but the Wizards rallied back by going 5-for-10 on deep in the first quarter. The Magic would end the first quarter trailing 27-29.
Their defensive effort would improve in the second quarter, as they held Washington to only 21 points. They made a better effort of preventing the open long distance shots they conceded in the first quarter. The big star of the first half for the Magic was Nikola Vucevic, who continues to look strong coming back from his bone bruise injury. He earned 14 points in the first half with a nifty array of hook shots, jump shots, and a nice dunk on an unexpected drive that left Marcin Gortat flat footed. He also grabbed nine rebounds in the half, as the Magic retook a 56-50 lead.
Orlando has struggled frequently in 3rd quarters this season, and that was the case again against the Wizards. Washington unleashed a quick 10-2 run in the first 2:30 of the second half, netting several easy layups and dunks. John Wall was excellent as usual, and he scored or assisted on eight of those points to get the lead back for the Wizards. Washington missed their starting shooting guard as well, as Bradley Beal sat with a shoulder injury.
Nine points from Elfrid Payton would keep the Magic in it, and he would finish the night with 17 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. In particular, Payton was outstanding from the line, shooting a tidy 7-8. He's now shooting 79.2% on the season, a great improvement on his 55.1% mark last year. Still, the Magic trailed going into the 4th with a score of 76-79.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, as the game slowed down and both team increased their defensive intensity. While Frye started the game, Scott Skiles elected to run with Aaron Gordon down the stretch of the game, perhaps to provide some much needed energy to the team. Washington appeared to be on the verge of breaking open the game with about five minutes remaining, but Otto Porter barely stepped out of bounds on a fast break, nullifying what might have been a 3 pointer by Wall. After Kris Humpries hit his 4th trey of the night, the game again seemed to be tumbling out of reach, but a missed layup from the Wizards and a made one in return from Fournier closed the gap again.
The Magic would cut the lead to just two points, but Washington would shut the door for good from then on. Turnovers from Payton and Napier would seal the Magic's fate in the final minutes.
The Magic finished with another round of balanced scoring, with five starters in double figures, including 19 from Vucevic and 18 from Fournier. For the Wizards, Humpries led all scorers with 23 points on the back of 5-8 shooting from downtown, while Wall finished with 18 points and 11 assists.