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Wizards 125, Magic 119: Faltering in the Fourth

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The Magic kept it close, but ultimately couldn’t find answers in the closing minutes

Orlando Magic v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s understood that defense wins championships, but in a mid-January game between division rivals such a belief seemingly couldn’t be further from the truth. The Magic and the Wizards came out tonight and proceeded to put on an offensive clinic, aided, of course, by lackadaisical and lethargic defense at either end. Both teams actually opened the game by hitting 11 of their first 14 shots, and although the torrid scoring pace slowed down some in the fourth quarter, it was very much a game decided by shot making.

The third quarter has been an absolute train wreck for the Magic of late, so it was pleasing to see them actually outscore their opposition 35 to 33 across those twelve minutes. It wasn’t always pretty and the defense continued to struggle, but the fact that the team came out on top at least counts as a moral victory at this point.

However, the fourth was sadly a more familiar tune, with Orlando struggling to find easy buckets thanks to poor shot selection and stagnant sets. At the other end the Wizards continued to methodically exploit defensive mismatches, with John Wall ruthlessly torching Evan Fournier any time the two ended up in one-on-one coverage. A handful of other miscues and slow rotations resulted in easy buckets for the Wizards, and the game was effectively decided with a couple of minutes still to play.

Let’s dive in and pick apart some of the more interesting elements of this one.

Carelessness

One of the main problems to plague the Magic throughout this contest was their general carelessness in a number of different areas. This was perhaps most keenly felt at the offensive end, where they struggled to hold onto the ball and finish possessions cleanly. They ended the first half with 10 turnovers, many of which were a result of lazy passing, with Aaron Gordon and Mo Speights being the two worst offenders in this regard. The decision-making improved as the game went on, but these early miscues meant that the team was never able to get out in front of Washington.

Orlando also really struggled to contain the two-man game, with simple screening action at the top of the key routinely generating mismatches for the Washington backcourt. Ineffective hedges opened up driving lanes for the Wizards’ backcourt, while mismatches created by switching yielded a large number of uncontested jumpers from the midrange. Unfortunately for the Magic, they were made to pay in these moments by both Wall and Bradley Beal, the latter of whom racked up 30 for the game, including 23 in the first half on 10 of 13 shooting.

It’s also worth noting that the Magic gave up 40 first half points in the paint, along with 34 in the second. This speaks volumes as to the general lack of resistance the team provided around the rim. Wall and Beal were also able to finish a number of and-one buckets at the hoop, a fact again reflective of Orlando’s inability to stem the flow of points on the inside. If you’re looking for an indication of where this game was lost, you’ve found it.

General weirdness

Where to start? How about Bismack Biyombo’s impersonation of Michael Jordan? The big man made the most of literally every opportunity thrown his way in the first half, setting a career high with 4 minutes remaining in the half and eventually finishing with a box score line of 21, 13 and 4 along with 2 blocks and a steal. He fought hard for boards at both ends, did his usual routine of challenging any shot in his vicinity, and generally provided a level of enthusiasm and effort that has been missing during recent contests. Biyombo was key to the team’s ability to stick with the Wizards during this one.

Elsewhere there was Payton looking like the most dangerous player on the court in transition, despite being matched up against Wall. We also had Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, the team’s two leading scorers with Nikola Vucevic still sidelined, staying relatively quiet and looking to get others involved during the game’s early stages (in fact, Gordon only had two shot attempts in the first half). And although at this stage it doesn’t really count as weird, Speights following up multiple airballs in the first half by then ripping off a couple of deep threes to tie the game late in the third was certainly unexpected at that particular juncture.

Orlando’s three stars

Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I’d steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.

First star: Bismack Biyombo – Could it have been anyone else? The Magic’s starting center had this wrapped up on the strength of his first half alone, and the fact that he was at one stage on pace to score 55 points should tell you everything you need to know. We ain’t ever seeing another Biz performance like this, so drink it in, man.

Second Star: Elfrid Payton – Payton was aggressive all night long, and although he struggled to remain involved and effective without the ball in his hands it was his general play that kept the scoreboard ticking over. 27 and 8 on 9 of 12 shooting is definitely production the team could live with going forward.

Third Star: Aaron Gordon – quiet and a little indecisive in the first half (perhaps as a result of his poor last outing), Gordon started to make his presence felt in the third quarter and was a key component of the team’s ability to keep the contest close during the second half.

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There were definitely some pleasing signs evident in this one, and the argument can be made that losing is actually in the franchise’s best interest at this juncture of the season. Still, it’s evident that the team are eager to bust this streak, and they’ll get that opportunity on Tuesday when the Timberwolves come to town. We’ll see if it’s time.