The Orlando Magic tightened up their defense against the Washington Wizards down the stretch Wednesday night, pulling away from their divisional rival in the fourth quarter en route to a decisive 101-92 victory to close out the year.
When asked about the possibility that Magic fans would be upset with the team’s win, which will result in Orlando finishing with the fifth-worst lottery odds (opposed to tied for third-worst), Coach Frank Vogel said he understands where fans are coming from.
“I understand them (the fans), but you go out there and compete (to win) and that’s all you can really be concerned with at this level,” Vogel said. “At the coach-level, at the player-level. And what I would tell them is, we’re going to get a good player at 4, 5, 6, 7 - wherever we pick.”
The Magic entered Wednesday’s game one half game ahead of both the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks in the standings, who finished their respective seasons last night. With a loss against the Wizards, the Magic could have tied the Hawks and Mavericks for the third-worst record in the NBA, which would have given the Magic roughly a 38% chance at a top-3 pick in the upcoming NBA lottery.
Instead, with a victory, the Magic now head into the lottery owning the fifth-best odds at garnering a top-3 pick (Top-3: 29%, #1 pick: 8.8%). For a talent-starved franchise desperately in need of a jolt, those odds represent a significant difference from what could have been.
The Magic chose not to hold out any of their healthy starters. D.J. Augustin, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic all started for the Magic against the Wizards, though they only played in the first half.
For the Wizards, losing the contest means that Washington will finish in the eighth position in the Eastern Conference standings and will face the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Wizards will limp into the playoffs losers of 11 of their last 16 games.
The Magic jumped out to an early 15-8 lead midway through the first quarter behind strong play from Aaron Gordon, who connected on his first three three-point attempts.
Orlando led in the first quarter by as many as nine points before a late opening period run by the Wizards tightened things up. The Magic connected on six of their first eleven three-point attempts.
Gordon and Mario Hezonja, both set to become free agents for the first time in their careers, hooked up early for a beautiful alley-oop finish on the break.
The Magic received a huge contribution in the second quarter from their bench. Orlando’s second unit scored 29 points in the period, led by Arron Afflalo. Afflalo connected on 5 of his 6 attempts in the period, scoring 12 points in the second quarter alone (his season high for an entire game).
Behind 15 first half assists, the Magic led the Wizards 55-45 at the end of the first half.
The Magic struggled a bit in the third quarter and allowed the Wizards to get back in the game. Things got a little weird at the 8:39 mark in the third quarter.
Marreese Speights committed a hard foul on Tomas Satoransky to slow down a potential Washington fast-break opportunity. Marcin Gortat took exception to the Speights foul and the two veteran centers exchanged words. Speights threw an elbow that connected above Gortat’s shoulders.
Both players were issued technical fouls and Speights was ejected from the game. On the next Orlando offensive possession, a Hezonja jumper abruptly lodged in between the backboard and the rim (known as a “wedgie”).
And honestly, what would be one last Magic game without an out of bounds turnover, which occurred with a minute remaining in the quarter off a bad pass by Terrence Ross. Like I said, things got a little weird.
The Magic, who made a concerted effort this season to adjust thier offense into a more modern NBA attack, set an all-time franchise record for most three-point makes in a season on a third quarter three by Hezonja.
Mario Hezonja with no hesitation on his 3-pointer, which rattles in as the @OrlandoMagic set a franchise record for most triples in a season! Watch the game against the Wizards live now on FOX Sports Florida and FOX Sports Go! #PureMagic #NBA pic.twitter.com/CZTXz8PMY0— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) April 12, 2018
The Wizards took the lead with just over 9 minutes remaining in the game, but they failed to play out in front for more than just a couple possessions.
A Rodney Purvis three-point make put Orlando back in the lead at the 6:36 mark, a lead they would never relinquish.
The Magic went on a 21-11 run to close out the game. Washington went ice cold, shooting 5 for 25 in the game’s final quarter.
The Wizards missed three free throws in the fourth quarter while turning the ball over six times in the period.
“Our guys really committed on the defensive end,” Vogel said in his post-game conference. “In the last six weeks of the season, there has been significant growth on that end of the floor. When you’re getting stops, you always have a chance offensively to make a play. That’s pretty much what happened during that run.”
Vogel entered Wednesday with the plan to play everyone on his bench. Only Hezonja and Khem Birch logged more than 30 minutes in the game.
Hezonja finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Rodney Purvis led the Magic in scoring in the contest with 16 points off Orlando’s bench. Birch chipped in 13 points and 9 rebounds.
All-Star guard Bradley Beal had a horrendous shooting night for the Wizards, who were already playing without John Wall and Otto Porter Jr. Beal scored 13 points on 4-15 shooting. The Wizards were led by former Magic guard Jodie Meeks, who put up 18 points in the game.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for many members within Orlando’s organization. Jeff Weltman and John Hammond will have difficult decisions to make (soon) regarding the coaching staff and the roster. But for one last time this season, the night belonged to the guys in the Magic locker room that Vogel has praised all season.
“Perfect ending for us,” Vogel added after the game. “It’s been a tough year. All throughout difficult times (this year), this group has remained a tied together group with good chemistry. They really enjoyed each other, that was evident tonight. Everyone contributed at a high level and it was a good team win.”
What once started out as such a promising season, with the Magic winning 8 of their first 12 games, has finished with the Magic once again winning a meaningless game on the last night of the season as they head towards the lottery for a sixth straight year.
Wednesday night may have been the final time Hezonja, Vucevic, or even Gordon (gasp) wear the pinstripes.
And it may have been a night in which Orlando ruined an opportunity to position themsleves to draft a top prospect in late June.
But I must share with you Magic fans, I stood in the media room buffet line before tonight’s game waiting to be served some sort of chicken burrito (it was delicious by the way). I was sharing small-talk about the food with an important figure in Magic lottery folklore, Mr. Pat Williams.
Yes, I’m taking tonight’s random encounter as a sign. If anyone knows that “it just takes one”, its Pat Williams.
There’s nothing left for any of us to do except wait and see.