Abracadabra, razzamatazz! Slam dunk sesame! The Magic’s tilt against the Wizards on Saturday night started with the dusting off of a familiar and beloved tune from the team’s past, but ended with a familiar and bleak result that speaks of the team’s current circumstances: a resounding loss and an injured youngster.
The story of the first quarter was undoubtedly Wendell Carter Jr.’s hot start, with the big man knocking down 3-3 from deep in the game’s first six minutes. Sporting goggles as a result of an eye abrasion suffered in his last start, it apparently made little difference as he trailed plays into uncontested triples before eating up a pick-and-pop three that Cole Anthony put on a plate for him. Unfortunately the team’s shooting elsewhere wasn’t as hot (just 4-20 for non-goggled players), while the defense became increasingly porous as the quarter unfolded. Washington poured in 14 straight points to open up a double-digit lead, going to the first break with a 28-18 advantage.
Orlando’s stretch of scoring futility ultimately extended across 8:24 minutes of playing time and 16 empty shot attempts, eventually being blessedly broken by a Jalen Suggs layup generated by an advantageous cut. By that point the Wizards had busted the game open, extending Orlando’s deficit to 16 points on the back of a ferociously physical Montrezl Harrell performance and dynamic backcourt play by Spencer Dinwiddie. Things were looking ominous.
To the credit of the Magic they were able to chip away at things in the minutes before halftime, getting back into the contest on the back of increased effort and some downhill energy. RJ Hampton added to Sugg’s earlier effort with a lightning quick layup of his own, before Anthony was able to get his first basket of the game on a decisive drive and tough finish, drawing a foul for good measure. His freebie temporarily got Orlando back within 5, but the Wizards were able to steady and reclaim their previous advantage. Some late trips to the free throw line by Anthony helped the Magic minimize the harm of another cold shooting spell, but they still found themselves down 50-37 at the main break.
The margin at the half really was a reflection of the make-or-miss dynamics of the league. Orlando simply wasn’t able to find the bottom of the net with any consistency, whether it was on drives to the basket or on open jumpers. As a team they shot just 13-45 (28.9%), with Hampton the only player to make even half of his attempts (2-4). The Magic also coughed the ball up 8 times, while having their shot blocked on 5 separate occasions. By comparison, as a team Washington connected on 44.7% of their attempts, juicing their numbers further with the help of 7 offensive rebounds to Orlando’s 4.
The Magic’s offensive funk continued through the opening minutes of the third quarter, with errant passes and shot clock violations exacerbating empty shooting possessions. Fortunately for Orlando the Wizards were having their own problems, with little in way of dribble penetration forcing them to settle for three-point jumpers. As a result the margin continued to hover around the 10 point mark, with the Magic at one point slicing it to single digits before four straight jump shots by Kyle Kuzma — including three consecutive triples! — threatened to bust the contest wide open. Time out Orlando, down 68-49 and facing an increasingly difficult road back.
The Magic were able to come out of the huddle and cool off Kuzma, but had little to counter the impact of the freshly re-inserted Harrell. Washington’s big man continued to bully his way to the hoop, converting two three-point plays and even quarterbacking some plays from the high post when the possession called for it. A deep splashed triple to Deni Avdija pushed the margin to 24 before a banked floater at the buzzer by Suggs provided a glimpse of promise for Orlando as the game entered the final frame.
Things started to get completely away from the Magic in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, with some made triples the only thing keeping any mystery in the game whatsoever. A thunderous transition dunk to Harrell forced an Orlando timeout, from which the team emerged with one last burst. First they forced some turnovers and some misses by junking things up with a zone defense. Then they were able to get some offense clicking, with Terrence Ross and Anthony drilling triples and Franz Wagner and Hampton getting to the hoop and finishing. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t enough, the hole far too deep to climb out of and Orlando falling 104-92. Throw in a Jalen Suggs injury — the rookie would not return after rolling his right ankle during a fourth quarter defensive battle — and it was a pretty disappointing end to proceedings for the Magic.
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: Abracadabra, razzamatazz! — this video from the archives during warmups was undoubtedly the highlight of the night.
Second star: Wendell Carter Jr. — the only Magic player to make at least half of his shots from the floor, finishing with 17 points on 6-11 shooting (4-6 from deep) to go along with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. Orlando comfortably won the minutes he was on the floor.
Third star: Mo Bamba — 14 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and a steal in 26 minutes made for a busy night for Big Mo. Like the rest of the team he struggled with his shot, but he remained productive despite the very difficult Harrell matchup.
The five game home stand ends with a loss, the Magic now headed to the road for the next five against fancied opponents. First up? Hawks on Monday. See you then.