Orlando came into Washington hoping to reverse a trend of poor performances in the nation’s capital and to get their postseason push back on the right track. Things, however, did not go to plan. Plagued by lethargic defense and ineffective offense they failed to best a Wizards side only barely hanging on to the fringes of the playoff race, falling to 31-38 on the season and into a temporary tie with the Hornets for ninth in the East.
The Magic opened the game by targeting what they had evidently identified as a mismatch: Nikola Vucevic in the paint against Bobby Portis and the Washington frontline. His teammates were looking for him in the pick and roll, while also feeding him entry passes when he was in deep post position. He finished 8 Orlando possessions in the game’s first 8 minutes, and when DJ Augustin got cooking — 2 quick triples and a sick drive to the hoop — it looked like the team was ready to build a sizeable early lead.
The defense, however, had different ideas. The Wizards were able to seemingly get whatever they wanted inside, routinely running off weakside cuts and finding very little resistance at the hoop when they got there. They finished with 22 points in the paint for the quarter, a brutal indictment of a Magic team who were clearly not engaged at that end of the court.
The second quarter started in a similarly rough fashion, with Washington rattling off a 9-0 run to force Orlando into an early time out. Rookie Troy Brown Jr. did a lot of the damage off simple energy plays, and the sputtering Magic offense couldn’t keep pace. When the Wizards pushed their lead to 12 off a Chasson Randle triple things were starting to look bleak.
As the starters trickled back into the game the Magic were able to briefly steady the ship. Vucevic and Augustin again provided some timely scores, but the defensive malaise persisted. Bradley Beal was monstrous, scoring, distributing and routinely shredding Orlando on forays into the paint. They continued to feast inside, with both Portis and Jabari Parker doing damage against a defensively disengaged Magic side. After 24 minutes they had 38 points in the paint.
When the teams headed for the halftime oranges the score was 61-53 in favour of Washington. Vucevic had 16 and 7, while Augustin and Gordon both had 11 with 3 triples apiece. Beal was working on a triple double for the Wizards, and key bench contributions were everywhere for the home team (33 of their 61 points). For the Magic to get back into this one things were going to need to change.
The opening minutes of the third quarter provided hope. The energy and effort levels were noticeably better, while the ball was moving on offense. They still weren’t playing smoothly, but it was a marked changed from the lethargy of the opening half. An 8-0 run, capped by a pair of Gordon free throws, tied the game at 61 and put the Magic right back in the thick of the contest.
Things slowed down after this initial spurt as the game settled into more of a halfcourt grind. The Magic were deliberate in looking for pick and roll chances, although a more dialed in Washington defense resulted in some rushed attempts at the end of the shot clock. It wasn’t until Jonathan Isaac came alive in the quarter’s final minutes that they were able to take advantage of the improved defensive effort. JI had 13 in the quarter, 3 makes from long distance, some timely rebounds, and a drawn charge. It was legitimately a game-changing sequence from the sophomore forward.
The final frame began with the Magic down by a bucket, 76-74. A sluggish few minutes saw the teams trading baskets before the Wizards were able to open some breathing space. On offense Orlando were simply failing to execute, with poor decisions and ugly shots plaguing their scoring attempts. Some poor defensive efforts exacerbated the situation. Washington started getting back into the paint, with Parker and Beal in particular beating their immediate assignments and finding little in way of help defense to contend with. Add to that a failure to lock down the defensive boards and it’s easy to see how this one slipped away.
A ridiculous make from deep in the corner by Augustin briefly ignited thoughts of a comeback, but they were doused in short order by Parker and Thomas Bryant. When all was said and done the Magic had fumbled their way to 100-90 loss, fueled by a rampant Washington bench — who outscored their counterparts from Orlando 59-20! — and poor execution on both defense and with the ball in hand.
THE HUMAN TORCH TAKES FLIGHT pic.twitter.com/1EY8mR8M9c— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 14, 2019
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Jonathan Isaac — I mean, he probably shouldn’t get it for one stretch of great play, but it was a hell of a stretch! 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 makes from distance and a handful of hustle plays. If the team had pulled the win out this is the moment we would have looked back on as the difference maker.
Second star: DJ Augustin — Did you see some of those circus shots?! He had 16 and 7 with zero turnovers, even if his penetration and passing became more ineffective as the game went on.
Third star: Nikola Vucevic — Looked like he was on his way to a big night early, but finished with only 20 and 14 (still good for his 50th double-double this season). While he kept the team within striking distance on offense, his D was at times pretty suspect.
With every loss to a team below them in the standings the playoffs become a more difficult proposition. The good news is that they now head home for a stretch of five games, including four more against teams looking to the lottery. We’ve been saying this for a while now, but it’s time to take care of business. If they don’t, the only trip the team will be booking is an early one to a golf course.