Sometimes in sports, there's a team that you just can't overcome. Maybe they're a poor matchup for you. Sometimes they just have players who are better than yours, and other times they can beat you schematically.
For the Orlando Magic, they're currently going through two of those such steaks, one against the Cleveland Cavaliers which has reached 13 straight, and one against the division rival Washington Wizards, which after Saturday night's 105-99 loss, has hit 12 contests. In both cases, it's a mixture of all of those things that have doomed them, but even more so against the Wizards of late.
Washington, who have struggled to find consistency this season through a myriad of injuries, and periods of inconsistent play, have feasted on the improved Magic bunch, picking them apart every chance they got. Saturday night that was at peak form, as the Wizards jumped on the Magic early behind strong play on the defensive end, taking a continually growing amount of Magic mistakes and turning them into easy points. Early on, Washington turned six Magic turnovers into 12 points, all 12 of which came on the fast break.
But this isn't new for the Magic, who have been unable to slow down the Wizards early in games, giving up 34 fast break points in the first quarter. Behind the lightning quick John Wall, Washington is able to set a pace early that the Magic seemingly can't play at, especially without their starting point guard, Elfrid Payton, who sat out his fourth straight game with an ankle injury.
The loss, the Magic's fifth in six games, was another tough one to handle, as was evident by the lack of energy from players and coaches alike following the game. Not being able to get over the hump against a team that, at least record wise right now, the Magic are better than, is frustrating to them all.
Coach Scott Skiles said he believes that the teams issue with the Wizards is a mixture of matchups and poor defense. "Their speed and skill on the perimeter pretty much dominated us all four games," he said. "They played small most of the game, which makes it difficult for us to keep our bigger players in there. But, right from the beginning of the game they were just so much fast than us.
"They were, later in the game, running some screens for Gary Neal... He's a very capable player, but were were 15 feet behind him. All four games they just put us in a blender and their speed and skill on the perimeter owned us."
While Wall, who finished Saturday night with 24 points, 10 assists and four steals, terrorized the Magic's defense with his ability to weave in and out of the defense and get down hill at will, it was others that also gave the Magic big fits. The aforementioned Neal, who's known of his ability to knock down the jumper, was left open all too often, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting off the bench.
Jared Dudely, the teams stretch four man, gave Channing Frye issues all night, finishing 6-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep, for 16 points on the night. The long, lanky Otto Porter, who is slowly coming into his own this season, knocked down a pair of three's himself, finishing with an efficient 16 on 6-of-9 shooting.
Needless to say, the Wizards had the Magic's number with many of the matchups all night.
Tobias Harris, who finished the night with 11 points, agreed with Skiles, saying it's a mix of matchups and defensive schemes. "It's a combo of both, but we have to control what we can control, and that's the defensive end," said a toned down Harris. "They came out and had some good energy once they started making shots. We were turning the basketball over, we couldn't really get some easy looks and from the on it was pretty much an uphill battle. It was tough to get back into it.
"They're a tough time every time we face them. You've got your hands full with John Wall, but for us, we've got to look at this game and really evaluate ourselves as individuals. We've got to play better and we have to control what we can control, and that's not turning the basketball over. That's what we have to do on the defensive end, locking in, and pulling for one another."
Harris later added that it's "tough" to not be able to get over the hump against a Wizards bunch that has found ways to beat the Magic, even when they haven't had their best product on the floor. "We talked about it before the game. We talked about it after the game. At the end of the day, it's up to us to go out there and do the best we can to get a victory," said Harris.
With only one game in the next eight days, the Magic have a chance to not only get some much needed practice time in, but also get some rest and bonding time in. Things don't get easier for the Magic following their London trip, but they don't have to face the Wizards again this season, which is just fine in their books.
The loss may sting now, but they're not going to forget this, and it can only allow them another building block to improve and get better for the tough stretch they have upcoming. And, it should be known, they'll be locked, loaded, and ready to go next time they play the Wizards.